El Paso felt the heat when all four coaches of NBC’s “The Voice” turned their chairs in praise of Valerie Ponzio’s rendition of “Ring of Fire” – a bold song choice for the Sun City native.
But while her fans – deemed Val Pals – were disappointed when the country songbird didn’t win the battle against contestant Enid Ortiz this past Monday, March 27, Ponzio assured them that she has not lost the war.
“There’s just nothing but wins in every way that you look at it,” Ponzio said over the phone Monday night. “We’ve been able to work with some top songwriters thanks to that four chair turn. So many things are already happening. We actually had to race to Nashville to get on top of a lot of the opportunities that have opened up.”
Standing next to her at a bar in Nashville was her fiancé and Val & the Southern Line band mate Mike Minjarez. The two are currently in the Music City to work on Ponzio’s upcoming single, a collaboration with a songwriter who co-wrote Brett Young’s Billboard hit, “Sleep Without You.”
“Val has a very unique voice, and since we’ve been here, a lot of producers and writers have been really responding to what she does,” Minjarez said. “The project that we’re working on is the most exciting project that I’ve worked on. We just got the mix today. It’s an unbelievable song, and we can’t wait to share it with El Paso and the world.”
Ponzio has a lot of good things to say about her hometown. Even before she garnered the attention of Rolling Stone and Taste of Country, El Paso fans instilled confidence in the 32-year old.
“To say that El Paso’s supportive is almost an understatement,” Ponzio said. “I am overloaded with love and support from my hometown. It is such a blessing. El Paso has been supportive since before ‘The Voice.’ It’s just that kind of town.”
Still, it’s easy to imagine the rush of excitement Ponzio felt when she realized that all four coaches turned their chairs to face her – a motion that means they wanted her on their respective teams. How hard would it be to choose between Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine?
The decision was a toughie, but her love for country is what led her to choose Shelton.
“All of the coaches are extremely huge influences and idols for me,” Ponzio said. The Andress High School graduate grew up listening to Gwen Stefani’s music throughout school. She said a surreal moment was when the pop icon kissed her on the cheek after her audition – a movement she later labeled a “Gwiss.”
On her last episode, Ponzio got to work with country star Luke Bryan, who mentored her and Ortiz before they performed their battle duet rendition of former “Voice” contestant RaeLynn’s “Love Triangle.”
“He is just a genuine kind of guy,” Ponzio said. “He was so invested in getting things right with me and my battle partner. I was kind of fainting the whole time, so everything is a little fuzzy.
“To any Luke Bryan fan: whatever you expect him to be, he is that and beyond,” Ponzio added. “He is so nice and just so encouraging. It was an incredible experience working with him.”
Before “The Voice,” Val & the Southern Line performed in various cities while she and Minjarez traveled back and forth between Los Angeles and El Paso. Around nine years ago, Ponzio would frequent several local venues like Ardovino’s Desert Crossing and State Line.
Before honing her music skills, which included training at the Berklee College of Music, Ponzio recalls singing and writing music when she was 8 years old.
“I entered every talent show,” Ponzio said. “I had no idea how obsessed I was with singing at a young age. It’s just all I ever wanted to do.”
One of her favorite childhood memories was when she auditioned for the El Paso Opera Company’s children’s choir.
“I didn’t have a classical training background at all, so my parents were like, ‘Val, you’ve got to really wow them,’ and I was, like ‘Okay!’ So I wore this insane Princess Jasmine costume,” Ponzio said. “And of course, all of the other kids were in these respectable little outfits, and I come in with these red lips and a Jasmine costume from ‘Aladdin.’ But I got the part, so I guess it all worked!”
Ysleta High School guitar director Adam Schydlower vividly remembers teaching and mentoring Ponzio about 10 years ago at Desert Moon Academy of the Arts in west El Paso.
“Valerie has an exceptional gift,” Schydlower said. “She is an incredible singer and exceptional guitar player. I’ve been her biggest fan for 10 years.”
Family has also been a backbone for Ponzio.
“My brother Randy, he was such a huge influence musically,” Ponzio said. “He passed away five years ago, but he had taught me how to play guitar and he taught me how to write songs.”
She turned to country music to mourn the death of her brother, who continues to influence her music today.
“I want to continue to song write and develop my artistry,” Ponzio said. “That is so huge and important. I try to put where I’m from in my music. My Chuco Town roots are a huge part of what I do musically.”
Her hometown roots are also what she kept in mind while on “The Voice.”
“Being a Mexican in country music has been an interesting journey,” Ponzio said. “Being able to represent Latinos in country music on Team Blake was kind of awesome, and I definitely feel like because I had the support of El Paso, I was really empowered.”
Ponzio posted a photo of her with contestant Ortiz shortly after fans realized she didn’t make the recent cut, displaying camaraderie over rivalry. Ultimately, Ponzio is aware of the influence she has on young audience members and hopes to inspire them to be resilient.
“Younger girls just need to feel empowered about what they do no matter how different it is,” Ponzio said. “Maybe it seems out of place, and even if it doesn’t necessarily fit the mold, just keep doing it and great things will happen. You just have to have that faith that what you have to say is unique, and people will be there to support you 100 percent.”