Photographer: Press photo (Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

Photographer: Press photo (Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

YORK, Pa. (AP) _ DaNica Shirey couldn’t shake the nerves. Everything was hazy, and she almost felt drunk.The then-25-year-old singer had auditioned two other times for “The Voice.” But she’d never sung for the celebrity coaches.

This was her shot.

When she saw three coaches’ chairs turn around – a sign that she had made it to the next round – she believed for the first time that she could make it as a singer. And when she finished in the top eight a few months later, she believed it even more.

“’Oh my gosh, am I dreaming?”’ she remembers thinking. “’Did this finally happen for me?”’

But soon, she was headed back to York County and back to reality, which meant months of just trying to get by.

Over the next year, Shirey would struggle to find enough work to support herself and her daughter. She’d lose a potentially career-changing opportunity. And she’d almost lose her home.

But she never gave up. And she used her disappointment to begin building what she always wanted.

A career in limbo

Shirey returned home to Springettsbury Township in December of 2014 and rode “The Voice” wave for a few months.

She played her first-ever full-length concert at The Pullo Center in February, judged the local YorVoice singing competition at the Strand Theatre in March, performed alongside “The Voice” season seven winner Craig Wayne Boyd at The Pullo Center in June and was inducted into the Leo Club Hall of Fame at Red Lion Area Senior High School in September.

In between, she played a couple of small shows in Long Island and a few shows with the Philadelphia party band The Untouchables.

But it was never steady work. And soon, the phone calls stopped coming, a new season of “The Voice” started, and reporters moved on to the next story.

There’s no playbook to consult after you come home from a reality show. No one tells you what to do or helps you further your career.

“You have to definitely make it happen (for yourself),” she said.

Her father had always been the one to manage her and book her gigs, until he passed away in 2010.

“I was very spoiled,” she said. “When it came to music, I had a backbone, somebody that was there. I hardly worried about booking and stuff like that.”

Now, she didn’t know where to begin.

A low point

Shirey never expected anything to be handed to her after “The Voice,” she said. But she had high hopes for a collaboration with Pharrell Williams, her coach on the show.

“I thought 100 percent I would be working with Pharrell,” Shirey said. “He said, `I’m going to work with you and take care of you after the show.’ I thought for sure it would happen.”

And it did, for a little while.

Twice, Pharrell invited her and two other “Voice” alums to Miami to work on an album. He wrote songs for them, and they recorded a few, but not enough to complete the project the way he had envisioned.

Pharrell told Shirey he wanted to make the album happen, she said. But he didn’t know when he’d be available to start working on it again.

Pharrell could not be reached for comment.

While she waited for Pharrell, Shirey said she put off opportunities to work with other bands.

And as she waited, money was getting tight.

“The money I made on the show – I just ended up owing a bunch of taxes,” she said. “They don’t take the taxes off, so I owed a lot.”

The rest went toward getting caught up on bills after her fiancé lost his job.

And when she and her fiancé split up, Shirey had to find a way to provide for herself and her now 6-year-old daughter, Aslynn.

It was rough for about a year, she said.

“You feel low when your electric gets shut off,” she said. “I tried to remind myself it’s happened to most of us. We all go through our own struggles, whether it’s money or emotions or whatever.”

Eventually, Shirey couldn’t afford to wait for Pharrell.

“One day, I said I have to move forward . and I have to support my daughter,” she said. “I can’t rely on anyone to make it happen for me. I have to do it for myself.”

Regaining her footing

On the day her “Voice” journey began, Shirey made a pact with fellow contestant Jimi Milligan a few days before their blind auditions.

He was from Philadelphia, and when they first met, they bonded over their similar situations. Both had lost their fathers. Both had children. And they both desperately wanted careers in music.

“He said, `Hey, if nothing else happens for either one of us, you should come sing with The Big House Band in Philly,”’ Shirey said.

So, in the summer of 2015, she joined the seven-piece wedding band. As the band rebranded itself, Shirey would get a gig here and there, but it wasn’t consistent. And she needed the money badly.

That November, she said, she owed about $2,000 in rent and came “very close” to being evicted from her apartment.

“We had to go to court and figure all that out,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do . That’s something that worries you. When you have a kid, it’s kind of like a pride factor, too. If you have someone to stay with, you don’t want to because you want to provide for your child.”

Shirey said she cried for probably a day or two. Then she went into problem-solving mode.

She played a few more shows with The Big House Band, and Milligan paid her out of his pocket so she could pay her rent.

“I don’t even know how I got lucky,” she said. “Jimi saved my life.”

Soon, she started playing with the band more regularly, and by the start of 2016, she was making enough money to pay her rent and other bills, and to support her daughter.

The band plays everything from Sinatra to top 40 hits, and they’re booked at weddings, casinos and private parties at least one or two nights – sometimes even three – just about every weekend.

“We call ourselves a bandly – a band family,” she said. “I’m very blessed for them.”

Shirey said she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t disappointed she couldn’t continue her career with Pharrell.

“It hurts,” she said. “But I trust God and know there’s a path for me and something more for me. I feel like everything happens for a reason. Now, I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.”

There was only one thing missing: original music.

Her climb

Ever since she returned home from “The Voice,” Shirey has been writing.

She writes on car rides, while she’s cooking in the kitchen or even in the shower. Even if just one line or a melody pops into her head, she whips out her phone to record it or her notebook to write it down.

“I have tons of notebooks with tons of songs in them,” she said. “I started writing a song about it’s not the end of me. You’re gonna hear more of me.”

But she never had a band to record with or put her songs to music – until she met Peter Bottros, a self-taught pianist and composer in York.

“Peter is Beethoven,” she said. “The stuff he plays on the piano is so beautiful. When I listen to it, it draws all these emotions and feelings out of me.”

Inspired by his music, she reached out to him over the summer to see if there was an opportunity to collaborate on something in York.

Bottros, originally from Egypt, has performed all over the U.S. and in other countries. But since he moved to York, he’s had a deep-rooted passion for the city.

“I love York city,” Bottros said. “I want to be able to share my hopes and dreams with everybody in York. I believe it’s an up-and-coming city.”

Shirey said she felt the same way, and a partnership was born.

They’re working on their first album, which they plan to release in 2017, and they have plans for a Nov. 18 concert at The Pullo Center and a 2017 east coast tour. It will be Shirey’s first release since the demo she made when she was 15. And it will be her chance to write from the heart and tell her story.

“Our inspiration is every single struggle and everything Peter and I both as artists have faced in our lives,” Shirey said. “We feel it’s really important to chase after your dream and what you love to do . We’re using this album to show people it’s possible.”

Bottros said he wants the album to be uplifting and motivational, with an Adele-feel to it. So Shirey’s voice and message are a perfect fit.

Finding Bottros feels like God’s plan to make her first album something special, Shirey said. She could have made other albums with other producers over the years, but she didn’t feel passionate about those projects.

“I want to share my life experiences I went through,” she said. “I want to sing a song I wrote myself and have people be touched by it . This is something I always wanted to do.”

Exactly where she wants to be

Going into “The Voice,” Shirey said she never expected to be a superstar. And if she’s being honest, it’s not something she wants at this point in her life.

Right now, she’s exactly where she wants to be.

If she can do what she loves for a living, make someone smile on their wedding day and still have plenty of time to spend with her daughter, that’s all she ever wanted, she said.

“I look at everything I’ve been through, and it made me realize so much about life and myself as a person,” she said. “I don’t think I knew how strong I could be for myself and for (Aslynn).”

But she always had faith.

Two years ago on stage at “The Voice,” Shirey believed she could make it as a singer.

Maybe it didn’t happen the way she planned. She might never finish her album with Pharrell, and he might never be part of her career.

But that’s OK.

Everything she’s endured in the last two years has only helped her grow.

And now, she knows: “I can make it in York . (This) is not the end of me.”

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Online:

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Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com

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