AMES, Iowa — EllieMae Millenkamp’s senior year at Iowa State University started with singing on national TV and is ending with the unknown of when she’ll sing live again.
Millenkamp, senior in agricultural business from Jerome, Idaho, was on NBC’s “The Voice” last fall. She sang Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round” during the blind auditions, and judge Blake Shelton turned his chair to give her a standing ovation.
“We’re supposed to hear somebody that we like, and coach ‘em. And I heard enough. I wanted you on my team. Welcome to Team Blake,” Shelton said following Millenkamp’s audition.
Since her time on the show ended, Millenkamp’s music career didn’t slow down – until the COVID-19 pandemic prompted her to cancel all live shows in March and April.
“It doesn’t make me depressed, but it’s sad because it’s so quiet,” she said. “I feed off the energy of going to shows, so not playing shows completely opens up my weekends. I really miss it and I’m excited to get back.”
The music hasn’t stopped entirely. Millenkamp is scheduling shows further out in the year, singing live on social media and writing songs.
From Idaho to Iowa
Millenkamp was raised on her family’s 15,000-acre dairy farm in Jerome, Idaho, a town north of Twin Falls. She was involved in all aspects of the farm growing up, and originally wanted to be a veterinarian.
Her father is from Dyersville, Iowa, and she has two cousins on campus – plus, the agricultural business program was a perfect fit for Millenkamp.
“The connections I’ve made at Iowa State will be really beneficial in the future, and the friendships I made are going to last a lifetime,” she said. “Some of the classes I took within my major, like entrepreneurship, are ag-based but I could relate them to my career in music. Everything I did learn in ag will be used someday, whether I apply it to my music career or when I go back to the farm. If I was to choose again, I would come back to Iowa State.”
When she went home for spring break, Millenkamp worked on the family farm, helping to get the beef cows ready for breeding, helping with vaccinations, medical inventory and branding, and pruning trees in the orchard.
A schedule typically packed with gigs every weekend was replaced with full-time work on the farm and classes in between after Iowa State moved the remainder of the spring semester online.
After graduating, Millenkamp plans to return to the family farm to work. She’s also continuing to book future shows as much as possible and – fingers crossed – she’ll play at the Hwy 30 Music Festival back in Idaho in June.
Millenkamp’s local band includes drummer Sophia Steenhoek, senior in child, adult and family services; and guitarist Andersen Coates, senior in architecture. At shows, they often cover the Musgraves song that Millenkamp chose for her “Voice” blind auditions. Millenkamp draws inspiration from Musgraves, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Chris Stapleton and other country-folk artists.
Before the pandemic, Millenkamp often traveled to Nashville to work with songwriters and friends, including workshops with artist development specialist Judy Stakee. She plans to resume this work once she’s able.
Millenkamp is entirely self-taught. She had never taken vocal or guitar lessons prior to being on “The Voice.” She grew up singing in church, but caught the music bug in middle school after encouragement from family friend and musician Ryan Stevenson.
“I’m actually a really shy person, which is surprising, because when you’re a musician you have to put yourself out there,” she said. “But being on [‘The Voice’] I learned more confidence and have been able to apply that after the show in my personal life, in school, with my family and playing shows with my band.”