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Even after she moved, this former contestant on 'The Voice' has an undying love for Kansas City

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Overland Park native Kate Cosentino is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, who recently appeared on NBC's hit vocal competition show, "The Voice."

Overland Park native Kate Cosentino recently made a splash on NBC’s long-running vocal competition program. Though she’s lived in Nashville for seven years, Cosentino still reps Kansas City any chance she gets.

For her first televised audition on “The Voice,” Overland Park native Kate Cosentino wanted celebrity judges on the long-running vocal competition show to know two things: She’s very proud of her Italian heritage, and she just loves Kansas City.

Though the singer, songwriter, and guitarist moved to Nashville, Tennessee, seven years ago to attend Belmont University and pursue her music career, Cosentino still sings her heart out for the city of fountains.

“Kansas City, it just is home, and will never not be home,” she says.

Cosentino is the only musician in her family — you might recognize her name from the chain of grocery stores her relatives own — but she says her musical upbringing in Kansas City is why she’s so proud to be from here, and why she pursued a career in the arts.

“The music scene here brought me up, and I just love this place, so it is home,” Cosentino says. “Nashville's second home. Kansas City's first home.”

Cosentino started playing the guitar at the age of 7, and took early inspiration from “Hannah Montana” and the video game Guitar Hero. At 8 years old she picked up singing and, the year after that, she started writing lyrics.

Cosentino also took lessons from legendary Kansas City jazz guitarist Danny Embrey, and she was performing at coffee shops around town before she finished elementary school. Frequent customers of Prospero’s Books, Uptown Arts Bar, Betty Rae’s, and other local businesses may have seen her perform a time or two.

The exposure meant a lot to the budding musician.

“To have people encourage that, and be like: ‘Keep going, this is what you're meant to do and your songs are already moving us at such a young age.’ (That) was such an encouragement, and honestly keeps me going now,” says Cosentino. “That just made me flourish.”

Though Cosentino describes her music as “genre-fluid,” most of her songs feature a jazzy hook reminiscent of the Kansas City jazz she was raised on.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Kate Cosentino's favorite ice cream spot in Kansas City is Betty Rae's, shown here, where she once performed in high school.

A musician who’s hard to forget

In the latest season of ‘The Voice,’ Cosentino blew the celebrity judges away with her full, yet floating, voice.

Because competitors are not allowed to perform original music, Cosentino auditioned with Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” in the style of British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas.

For her final appearance on the show, Cosentino added a jazzy twist to her rendition of “Call Me,” by Blondie.

It wasn’t just her music that made an impact on the judges. Cosentino's carefully curated, eclectic sense of style helps her stand out in a crowd.

For her audition, Cosentino walked on stage in pink, high-heeled boots, checkered tights, and a two-toned dress with bedazzled hearts on it.

“Clown couture,” she called it, off the cuff, when Chance the Rapper complimented her outfit on national TV.

“I definitely pull influence from clownish characters,” she says. “I think I always dressed funky and bright because I love art. I liked feeling like I'm an artist when I walk in a room.”

The wardrobe choices have also served as a mask, she admits. Cosentino says she had a lot of body image issues growing up that dressing “loud” helped cover.

“I think I wanted to be preemptive about it not being an issue for me. So I'd be like: ‘I will dress weird, I will be talented, I will be smart,’ because I just didn't want to be perceived for my body,” she says. “Body image issues are sneaky and just kind of programmed into society and our brains as children.”

Though she has put a lot of work into building up her self-esteem, Cosentino still has tough days.

Her single “Prettiest Girl In The Room” tells the story of a short girl who envies those “with more time to spend in the gym,” and “Did I” follows another through her unhealthy weight obsession.

“I hate that I measure my day by whether I ate worse or better,” she sings.

Cosentino says most of the music she writes serves as a personal diary, and a reminder to herself and others to not let insecurities get in the way.

“It's to make people feel seen. Whether it's, like, a song that helps them cry through a rough time or a song that helps them dance through a celebratory time,” she says. “I like to write the soundtrack to life experiences.”

Giving back to Kansas City’s music community

Cosentino comes home to Kansas City frequently. Recently she’s been coming to town once a month to plan her wedding and play gigs, including one for the nonprofit Arts as Mentorship.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Enrique Chi, Kansas City musician and frontman for the band Making Movies, sits in a studio workspace for students in his Art as Mentorship program.

The program was created by Kansas City musician Enrique Chi, frontman for the group Making Movies, who worked with Cosentino in her early years, during a songwriting camp he organized more than a decade ago.

There was no boasting in it — she had been putting in the work. And I knew then (that) something was going to come of that,” Chi remembers. “You can’t work with that much discipline and passion and not grow what you’re doing.”

Chi has continued the music camp and expanded his programming. And Cosentino has kept in touch, he says. She even spoke with students about her time on “The Voice.”

“She … was a guest teacher and kind of gave a presentation about her journey through that,” Chi says. “The kids were so pumped to talk to Kate.”

Cosentino calls it a full-circle moment, and remembers her time on “The Voice” as a dream come true.

After unsuccessfully trying out for the show in years past, Cosentino made it to the third of five competitive rounds before getting eliminated. Still, it helped her reach a national audience — and doubled her social media following.

“Being on ‘The Voice’ was amazing and such a validating experience, but the most validating part was making my Kansas City people proud,” Cosentino says. “They have been there even before something this big happened.”

Cosentino’s musical journey shows no signs of ending soon; She wants to write music for movies and hopes to go on tour to connect with her television fans.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Kate Cosentino shows off a guitar strap and patch she designed, from her own guitar strap company, BiG CHiCK Energy. Removable patches make it easy to change the strap's look without removing it or buying a new one.

She also founded a guitar strap company called BiG CHiCK Energy. The line features simple, black velcro straps and big, bright patches so players can customize their look.

“I love Nashville, and there’s just — the industry is just so big there that I feel like I have some mountains to conquer, still,” she says. “And then when they’re conquered, I’d love to come back here at some point.”

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga reports on health disparities in access and health outcomes in both rural and urban areas.
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