When Montreal singer Charlotte Cardin was on the premiere season of the French-Canadian version of the TV singing competition “The Voice” at 18, she had no idea of the education that awaited her as she was eliminated as its fourth finalist.
Like a sponge, Cardin, who plays San Francisco this week, backing her second EP, 2017’s “Main Girl,” soaked it all up.
Stories, advice, concepts of stage poise and pacing came from “La Voix” coaches probably unfamiliar to pop fans outside Canada, she says, “because they were all Quebecois songwriters, great composers like Marc Dupre, Ariane Moffatt and Marie-Mai, a rock singer who was my coach,” she says. “Then there was Jean-Pierre Ferland, this classic old songwriter who’s like a pioneer in Quebec music. My grandparents know all of his songs.”
She ended up bringing the “La Voix” audience and coaches roaring to their feet with a passionate rendition of Amy Winehouse’s signature “You Know I’m No Good.”
She says, “From one day to the next, I suddenly had half my province knowing who I was. And to be able to handle that pressure and still perform? Learning that helped when I started doing actual concerts afterwards.”
Post-“Voix,” Cardin still hadn’t settled on a musical direction, even though she had been trying.
At age eight, she started singing lessons, and by 13, she had written her first songs.
“But it was just for a personal challenge, because for a long time, I didn’t think it was possible for me to make a career out of this,” she says.
That’s why the kid — who has the same smoky-eyed bedhead look as her renowned Gallic namesake, Charlotte Gainsbourg – took up modeling professionally at 15 for Montreal’s Folio agency.
Cardin did some surreal shoots. Once, her body was painted charcoal-black to camouflage her on a black backdrop, after which it took five showers to scrub her skin clean. She also got to work with one of her photographer idols, Chris Colls.
“I’ve had some really cool opportunities, although I was never really into modeling at all; it was just a sideline for me and a way to have some pocket money,” she says. “And after ‘La Voix,’ I really needed to take some time off, so I didn’t do any TV or public appearances for three years.”
But once the composer housed her soulful voice in the jazzy piano-electronica of tracks like “Big Boy,” she realized she finally found her own idiosyncratic approach. “It took a few attempts, but I could feel that sound coming,” she says. “So I had to write a lot of songs that I hated before I wrote ones that I liked.”