After placing in the top four of French Canadian TV talent show La Voix in 2013, Montreal singer Charlotte Cardin could easily have gone the way of Ryan Malcolm, Kalan Porter or, worse, Jacob Hoggard. Instead, she turned it into her captivating, mature electro-R&B EP Big Boy and a slot at this summer's Osheaga festival. The key was a mix of confidence and patience.
Being on La Voix, Cardin tells Exclaim!, "helped my career way more than it's put me at a disadvantage, but I'd say a little bit of both. The exposure was absolutely insane, but when you're on a show like that, it's not real life. You play in front of millions of people, and you're super famous in a day, but it's not real life. [Fans are there] for the show and the costumes and the dancers, and the reality show that goes with it; it's not just for the music."
Now, Cardin has to show a more discriminating kind of music fan — blog readers, playlist makers, record collectors, Osheaga attendees — that she's serious about her craft.
"The actual work," she says, "is what I've been doing after. There's a lot of judgement from people; when you're on a show like that, a lot of people assume you got it very easily. They think you haven't worked for what you have, so you have to prove to them that you're here for a reason, not just because you were lucky enough to end up on a reality show in front of millions of people."
With Big Boy, Cardin has taken a large step in the direction she wants to take, mixing the electronic sounds of modern songwriters like James Blake with the blues, jazz and soul of Allen Toussaint. She evokes Blake on "Like It Doesn't Hurt" and Amy Winehouse on "Dirty Dirty," singing in both English and her native French throughout the EP's six songs. Her voice sounds cool, smoky and effortless; it's no wonder labels were champing at the bit to sign her after La Voix.
"There was a big buzz after the show," says Cardin. "I got a lot of offers, but I thought it was so strange that labels would offer me deals without even hearing my own songs. They wanted to sign me from what they'd seen on La Voix, and I thought that was so weird. A lot of people were like, 'You have to do it now, while you're famous! People will forget you in a couple of years. There will be more La Voix and more contestants,' but I didn't feel it. I thought, 'If they want to sign me from what they've seen on TV, they don't really want to sign my art; they want to sign a product.'"
Cardin was put off.
"It made me back out a little bit. I was like, 'Okay, you know what, I'm just going to go back to school for two years, figure my shit out and see what I want to do.'"
She returned to her CEGEP — though she "switched programs, so I was in arts instead of sciences" — and continued modelling. It could have been a career for Cardin, who started at 15 and has done shoots for the likes of Interview, but she says modelling has "never been a passion for me. I like the idea of having intellectual capacities used in what I do. I feel like music is very stimulating in so many ways, and I don't really find that as much in modelling."
The decision to slow down took the pressure off her music, and it's allowed her to find her voice and follow her instincts.
"I trust myself more now, more than I used to," Cardin says. "I've taken my time so much, I feel like I'm ready to do it. We've released four of the six songs on the EP to good feedback — good things have come from that, so I don't feel pressure. I just feel excited to release it and keep on doing music. I hope people like the new songs on the EP, and I'm excited to play them live, to have people get my CD and listen to it."
The next plans are for a full-length next spring, but there's been nary a tease of that record material yet.
"Some of the songs, we play them live, but for sure there's going to be a continuation of the same style. A few of them were recorded at the same time as songs on the EP, so it's the same batch of songs. We're going to go back into the studio, because I wrote a bunch of new songs that I want to see if I want to put on the album, but there's going to be this same electronic, modern sound, but also classic vibes — jazzy tones and pop tones, stuff like that."
Listen to "Dirty Dirty" below. Charlotte Cardin's Big Boy EP is out now courtesy of Cult Nation.