Cali Wilson graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in political science, but she’s becoming known for her musical talents, making the top 13 of NBC’s “The Voice.” The Hawkeye from Salem, Iowa, says her degree is helping her navigate the music industry.
Emily Nelson
NBC/“The Voice”

Cali Wilson used to finish her classes at the University of Iowa and head back to her apartment to make YouTube videos of herself singing.

The Iowa alumna is performing on a much bigger stage these days.

Wilson, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2015, has advanced to the top 13 on the NBC show The Voice. She’s wowed judges Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, John Legend, and Kelly Clarkson over the past weeks with performances of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” and Britney Spears’s “Toxic.”

Singing is in Wilson’s blood.

“My mom was a singer back in the day,” Wilson says. “She gave it up to raise me and went back to nursing school and became a nurse to support me as a kid. I’ve sort of picked up where she left off.”

Growing up, singing wasn’t Wilson’s only dream.

“Iowa was my dream school when I was a kid,” Wilson says. “I grew up going to Hawkeye football and Hawkeye basketball games. I just loved the atmosphere of Iowa City, especially when the Hawks were playing.”

Wilson attended community college for a couple of years after high school before transferring to Iowa to pursue her political science degree. She says she performed here and there during college, often going home to Salem, Iowa, to do small gigs at local bars and restaurants. There were also the YouTube videos shot in her apartment.

After graduation, Wilson returned to Salem, where she worked to save as much money as she possibly could. She also started making trips to Nashville, Tennessee, to visit a songwriter friend, who convinced her that city was where she needed to be.

“I decided to pack up my little car with everything I owned and moved to Nashville in the summer of 2016,” Wilson says. “I started trying to hone my craft, be a better songwriter, learn as much as I could, and write with anybody who would take a session with me.”

She released her first EP in the fall of 2016 and single in 2017. Then came The Voice.

“My girlfriend encouraged me to go to the auditions in Nashville,” Wilson says. “I wasn’t nervous because it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. But I got invited to the blind auditions and here I am. It’s been a wild ride.”

Wilson says she’s been grateful for her time on The Voice.

“It’s really blown my mind how incredible all these contestants, coaches, and crew are. Everyone is so supportive and wants you to succeed,” Wilson says. “I’ve learned so much and improved so much, both in performing and how I prepare a song. That’s one thing I’ll carry with me: never stop learning. If you open your mind to things, you’ll achieve great things.”

Wilson says what she learned at Iowa has helped prepare her to navigate the music industry.

“It really helped me blossom, especially in communication, talking to music professionals, and now doing interviews,” Wilson says. “I think having that in my back pocket has made me feel more confident walking into meetings with music industry professionals and songwriters. It helps me hold my own as a confident, empowered female in the room.”

“I loved it at Iowa,” Wilson adds. “It was a great experience, and I’m proud to be representing the University of Iowa. Go Hawks!”