Sara Bareilles on “incredible” experience judging contestants blind for new singing competition ‘Breakthrough’

L-R: Sara Bareilles, Daveed Diggs, Kelly Rowland; Kwaku Alston

On The Voice, the coaches can’t see the contestants until after they’ve heard them sing. Well, on Breakthrough — a new Audible Original that’s the first singing competition developed and launched exclusively as a podcast — the judges didn’t see the contestants until the entire competition was over.

Hosted by Daveed Diggs, the show features Sara Bareilles and Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child leading five undiscovered artists through various singing and songwriting challenges, with help from industry professionals. But Sara and Kelly didn’t lay eyes on any of the five contestants — Blaze, Johnna, Mitch, Melanie and Sasha — until they declared one of them the winner.

Sara tells ABC Audio of the going-in-blind concept, “There are so many assumptions that get made [because of] how we perceive someone, and it takes you out of really just experiencing the music, the tone of the voices or the blend or … the stories that we’re being told, the craft of the songwriting.” 

“It was very liberating to distill it to this kind of one sense. It was incredible,” she adds.

Sara previously judged the third season of NBC’s The Sing-Off — famously won by Pentatonix — but says she doesn’t really enjoy giving out criticism. Breakthrough is different, she says, because “we really looked at this as a mentorship program.”

“It was really about how can we pull out the best in each of these artists,” she explains. “It was really about learning how they could be their biggest, brightest selves, and I think they all made a tremendous amount of growth and big leaps in this competition. That will really stick with me.”

Breakthrough episodes one through three are streaming now; three additional episodes will debut each week until the two final episodes, which drop June 22.

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