On stage, Janelle Butler goes by Oliv Blu. The name is based on a decision that, like most of her artistic identity, can be tied directly to the life experiences that have shaped her. “When she was a baby, Janelle used to beat box,” said Dana Butler, mother of the H-F graduate, who was a recent contestant on NBC’s “The Voice.”
“When she was a baby, Janelle used to beat box,” said Dana Butler, mother of H-F graduate Janelle Butler, a recent contestant on NBC’s “The Voice.”
“She would always have a beat in her head.”
On stage, Janelle goes by Oliv Blu. The name is based on a decision that, like most of her artistic identity, can be tied directly to the life experiences that have shaped her.
“Janelle Olivia has a twin sister, Brooke Olivia, so she just shortened “Olivia” to “Oliv,” and added her favorite color,” her mother said. “A lot of things she does may seem abstract, but they almost always draw back on the things that connect with her.”
Raised in a family of dancers, performers and music lovers, Dana says Oliv Blu was born with “music inside of her.” Still, Dana said, while most of Janelle’s relatives sang at weddings and danced in school theater, what has distinguished Janelle’s trajectory is the size of her stage.
It was R&B singer, pianist and EGOT* winner John Legend who initially turned his chair around during Blu’s blind audition on “The Voice.”
At a watch party hosted at the Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery, Joseph Butler, her dad, said the experience has been as surreal as it gets.
“Looking at her on stage, around all of these celebrities and cameras, none of it seems real,” he said. “But I see her there in the middle of it, and I know she’s real. It’s just the craziest feeling.”
Over mounds of nachos, and froths of beer, Blu’s family and friends watched her perform live on the April 26 episode of “The Voice.” The private party’s conversation paused when Blu took the stage and respectfully resumed when her competitors are at the mic.
“That’s one of her best friends now,” Butler said of a fellow competitor from South Africa. “All of these kids are so talented. Not as talented as mine, of course.”
While judge Legend shares Blu’s soulful sound, it was country star Blake Shelton who would eventually steal the young singer, bringing her on to his team. It was an exciting change, Blu said, regardless of their sonic differences.
“What better way to grow than to work with someone outside of my genre?” she explained. “Blake never wanted me to change, and he truly believed in me. That genuine support was all I could ask for. I wouldn’t change a thing about the way everything panned out. It was truly the best situation ever, because I was able to stand out even more on his team than John Legend’s.”
Blu’s thirst for the wisdom of other musicians was quenched during her time on “The Voice.” Still, she said, the seed of her passion for performing was born much earlier and continues to grow. It first sprung on the stages of local fashion shows and dance recitals.
It wasn’t until she was awe-struck by a fellow performer, that her vision for a career on stage became clear.
“The first recollection I have of wanting to be a singer was when I was in first or second grade, watching Beyoncé in her ‘Crazy In Love’ music video. I knew that was what I wanted to do,” she said.
As she began to explore songwriting in her teen years, Blu found her place in musical collective Freesole Chicago. The rest, she says, was history.
“I’m a storyteller. The best way to tell someone something, is to show them. I want to show the world that you can do anything you put your mind to, as long as you stay positive,” she said. “Own who you are, and you can never lose.”
It’s this humble outlook that Joseph says makes Blu such a genuine performer.
“She just cares so much about connecting with the crowd, about making sure everyone has a good time,” he said. “When she goes out on stage and asks the audience ‘How we doing tonight?’ It’s not some gimmick or routine. She really wants to know.”
While Blu is no longer a contestant on “The Voice,” supporters can find her at Navy Pier’s Chi-Soul Fest later this month.
“As you can probably tell, performing is my favorite thing ever,” she said. “Expect much more of that around Chicago. I’ll be performing at the Chi-Soul Fest on June 22 at Navy Pier. I don’t want anyone to miss the fun things I have in store, so please make sure you have me on socials @Olivblu on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.”
*EGOT refers to artists who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award — a rare achievement.