South Jersey's Grimmie falls short on 'Voice' finale

Watching cousin Christina were Nick and Jamie Gargano, their son Jamie, and daughter Charleigh. They remembered her as a girl who had to be prompted to sing at family functions.
Watching cousin Christina were Nick and Jamie Gargano, their son Jamie, and daughter Charleigh. They remembered her as a girl who had to be prompted to sing at family functions.
Posted: May 22, 2014

They gathered around restaurant tables, the smell of pizzas in the air, holding hands and staring at the large TV screen at Casa di Roma in West Berlin. Twenty family members watched Christina Grimmie, their hometown girl, standing on stage more than 2,000 miles away, as Carson Daly said the words they had hoped they wouldn't hear:

Grimmie had placed third on the finale of Season 6 of The Voice.

As the camera panned to the winner, Josh Kaufman, the hipster with the sweet soul voice - but also a stranger from Indianapolis - Team Grimmie momentarily deflated in deep sighs before bouncing back almost instantly.

"We've always said, no matter what happens, we're so proud of her and she's blessed us so much," cousin Rose Cesario said, her eyes welling up. "We know she's going somewhere."

In Los Angeles, earlier in the day, her immediate family had sounded similar refrains. "Top 10, top five, top three - this opens doors," her brother, Mark Grimmie, said in an interview before the show.

In fact, minutes into the live finale on NBC, Grimmie's celebrity coach, Adam Levine, gave her family reason to be at ease. He announced on national television that he'd sign her if she didn't win, prompting cheers in the Camden County pizza place. (Grimmie also won a car on the competition.)

Grimmie has taken South Jersey on quite the ride. Through 14 weeks of vocal competition, the 20-year-old, with two albums and two international tours under her belt, has "given us something to root for," childhood friend Lauren Longo said last week.

Tuesday night, they gathered over homemade red wine and Roma's pasta and pizza to watch a three-hour results show. (Some took a brief 10-minute break to check on the 76ers' draft position. Like Grimmie, they placed third.)

Grimmie grew up in Marlton with her father, who works for Verizon, her mother, and her brother, Mark, 21.

She attended Marlton Middle and Cherokee High School through her sophomore year, when she left to go on tour with Selena Gomez. She moved to Los Angeles in December 2012 but still has deep ties to the area - and it to her.

At Cherokee High, fliers encouraging students to watch the show and to vote hung on walls as her music played over the intercom system last week. The marquee outside read "Proud of former Chief Christina Grimmie good luck tonight!" and the school store was stocked with Grimmie posters.

Ott's pub in Berlin drew hundreds Monday night to a viewing party complete with Grimmie trivia, T-shirts, and specials.

Grimmie was the only competitor among the finalists who had placed in the bottom three in earlier rounds of the competition. But she also appeared to have the larger social-media following, with more than 500,000 Twitter followers, nearly 2.5 million YouTube subscribers, and performances consistently landing at the top of the iTunes charts. It was the show's instant "Twitter save" that saved her last time around.

Voice viewers vote by calling, texting, or downloading music via iTunes, and family members Tuesday recounted their long nights spent texting - up to 10 times per phone (and they wrangled a lot of phones).

Celebrity support was also thumbed in from Gomez and Justin Bieber, who tweeted ahead of the finale: "Just got the call from big bro @adamlevine. I got u man. I started on youtube and so did [Grimmie]."

But all of that wasn't enough to beat Kaufman, whose rendition of "Set Fire to the Rain" by Adele in the finale (complete with a pyrotechnical show and a full choir behind him) had TV bloggers and recappers singing his praises. Country singer Jake Worthington came in second.

At Casa di Roma, Grimmie's gregarious Italian family described her as a quiet, compassionate girl, a lover of video games, who had to be prompted to sing at family functions.

Cousin Nick Gargano said he's "not worried about her future."

"She wants to sing and she's going to run with it until she can't run anymore. She has a huge following, and 50 percent of those people are with her because she can sing, but the other 50 percent, these are little girls who idolize her and see what my kids see," he said, seated at a table with his wife and two young children: "Someone with a huge heart."


jterruso@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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