Alicia Keys without make-up on The Voice

Alicia Keys, celebrity judge and coach on Season 11 of The Voice, without make-up on the reality TV programme.
Alicia Keys, celebrity judge and coach on Season 11 of The Voice, without make-up on the reality TV programme.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

WASHINGTON • Those who tuned in to NBC's The Voice on Sunday night may have noticed something a little unusual: a celebrity, on network television, sans make-up.

Grammy-winning R&B singer Alicia Keys, one of Season 11's judges/ coaches, no longer wears make-up, a decision she described publicly in May: "I don't want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing."

Her bare, freckled face has garnered attention before Sunday's one-hour preview of Season 11 of The Voice. She was photographed on the red carpet of the BET Awards in June, when about seven million viewers tuned into the show, which also featured her performing.

However, now an even bigger audience will regularly see her make-up-free face on the NBC series, which drew just over 13 million viewers last season.

Perhaps, it is fitting that she will be on a show premised on celebrity coaches choosing singers blindly so the decisions "are based solely on voice and not on looks".

Every now and then, celebrities upload #nomakeup selfies to social media. Even the ever-made-up reality television star Kim Kardashian does it from time to time.

Few famous women, though, have staked out such a definitive stance as Keys.

The process that led her to alter her public image came after years of fame and feeling insecure, as she wrote in actress Lena Dunham's Lenny Letter: "I was finally uncovering just how much I censored myself and it scared me. Who was I anyway? Did I even know HOW to be brutally honest anymore? Who I wanted to be?

"I didn't know the answers exactly, but I desperately wanted to.

"In one song I wrote, called When A Girl Can't Be Herself, it says, 'In the morning from the minute that I wake up/What if I don't want to put on all that makeup/Who says I must conceal what I'm made of/ Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem'.

"No disrespect to Maybelline, the word just worked after the maybe. But the truth is... I was really starting to feel like that - that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see.

"This started manifesting on many levels and it was not healthy.

"Every time I left the house, I would be worried if I didn't put on make-up: What if someone wanted a picture?? What if they POSTED it???

"These were the insecure, superficial, but honest thoughts I was thinking. And all of it, one way or another, was based too much on what other people thought of me.

"I found my way to meditation and I started focusing on clarity and a deeper knowing of myself. I focused on cultivating strength and conviction and put a practice in place to learn more about the real me."

But the moment that led to her no-make-up revelation came when she arrived at a photo shoot for her new single, In Common.

She had just come from the gym and her face was "totally raw", she wrote. "As far as I was concerned, this was my quick run-to-the- shoot-so-I-can-get-ready look, not the actual photo-shoot look."

The photographer told her, "I have to shoot you right now, like this! The music is raw and real, and these photos have to be too", Keys wrote.

At first unsure, the singer eventually relented. "I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt," she wrote about the experience and resulting images.

Later, she appeared on the cover of Fault magazine, freckles and all.

In the trailer ahead of The Voice's season preview, Keys says: "You're able to hear someone, true, for who they are. And that's what music is."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Alicia Keys without make-up on The Voice'. Subscribe