Sara Bareilles on How 'Little Voice' Became a Charming Drama About Big Musical Dreams (Exclusive)

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Sara Bareilles' Little Voice has been a long time coming.

Apple TV+'s new musical drama, executive produced by Bareilles, Jessie Nelson and J.J. Abrams, follows aspiring singer-songwriter Bess King (Star's Brittany O’Grady) as she struggles to fulfill her dreams while navigating rejection, love and complicated family issues. A love letter to the diverse musicality of New York City, the nine-episode series is a story about finding your authentic voice -- and the courage to use it.

The genesis of Little Voice dates back to the mid-2000s when Bareilles was preparing to release her major label debut album, which dropped in 2007. What was meant to be the title song, "Little Voice," that Bareilles wrote when she was in her mid-20s, was ultimately left off the LP... until now.

"This was a song I wrote for my very first record that I was encouraged not to include on the record because 'it wasn't a good enough song,'" Bareilles shared during a Zoom chat with ET's Keltie Knight. "So I tucked it away. But in honor of the song -- it was like I had a dream about writing this song, so it was a spiritual moment for me -- I named that record Little Voice. But I find it to be completely kismet that all these years later, this song has stayed in my trunk and became a theme song for this [series]."

Showrunner and executive produceNelson, with whom Bareilles worked on Broadway's Waitress, echoed the singer's sentiments, noting that Little Voice explores the questions artists constantly grapple with every day. 

"We're really blessed with the collision of what's going on in the world and what themes are important to Sara and I," Nelson said. "But even when we created this, the world was in a really complicated moment and this is a theme I think travels with most artists for most of their life. You're constantly having to gut check, 'Am I coming from my most authentic self? Am I really sharing what I want to say versus the voices coming at you telling you who you are?'"

"One of the things I loved was when we first decided to call the show Little Voice, Sara went away for a week and said, 'I'm not really cracking the theme song.' Then she called me a day later and said, 'I'm not cracking it because I think I already wrote it 20 years ago,'" she added. "She brought the song out and said, 'Do you think there's possibility with this?' It's genius! It's perfect for us but I loved that it already existed and was waiting for her to reclaim it."

Little Voice
Apple TV+

In addition to writing original songs for the series, Bareilles identified with the struggles Bess faces as she tries to make inroads on reaching her musical dreams. While playing the occasional late-night gigs on the side, Bess spends most of her days as a dog walker and caring for her brother. Bareilles worked as a waitress at beer bars, ale houses and cafes in Santa Monica, California, during her early days.

"I was serving eggs and smoothies in the morning so I could have my nights free and have rehearsals and do shows," Bareilles reminisced. "But especially in music, you take whatever gig you can get, so I played birthday parties. I opened for a magician at a little club, and that's one of those moments where you're really like, 'Is this what I'm meant to be doing?' But yeah, street fairs and anything that would let you play. I played our Christmas party at the Library Ale House in the corner where there wasn't really music to be had but it was anything I could do to get out there and to make ends meet and be able to pay my bills. I had a lot of help from my parents and my grandma at the time; [they] used to send me $200 a month so that would pay some of my bills. I was lucky I had a supportive family."

O'Grady said she was stunned by Bareilles' original songs when she heard them for the first time. The actress performs a handful of new songs, specifically written by the songwriter, throughout the series.

"When I heard Sara's music, the songs Bess would be singing on the show, I felt so moved by it and really identified with the lyrics," the actress told ET. "In some of the songs, I was like, 'You think I can sing that.' It's like she guided me through all of that and I really resonated with the lyrics and the music. It would be stuck in my head at night and I would just be thinking about her songs. I would be listening to the music when I was walking down the street in New York, thinking, 'This is really exciting. I am hearing something that no one else has heard before.'" 

Set in the heart of the Big Apple, Bareilles spoke about the importance of showcasing the city in its pre-coronavirus glory.

"The fact that we got to finish filming before all this happened and we got to finish editing, sound mixing, there was something that felt very protected about the show. But I love it. I love rewatching these episodes now 'cause I take long walks in the city these days. I take 10-mile walks and everything is so emptied out and it's such a different place," recalled Bareilles, who has since recovered after testing positive for COVID-19. "It's so beautiful to look back and to know that it will return [to this at some point], but there's something really sweet and nostalgic about the show because it's in the context of such a different version of New York City."

And fear not. Little Voice features a love triangle between Bess, guitarist Samuel (Colton Ryan) and British neighbor Ethan (Sean Teale). The idea for the complicated romantic entanglements was borne from conversations Bareilles and Nelson had with Abrams.

"Because Felicity had been such an important show to Sara, our nod to that was having a love triangle as a huge component in the show. But I also think it's such a part of that age," Nelson explained. "You fall in love with the unattainable person or you ignore the person that would be healthy for you. You finally see that person for who they are, then they're not available. It's an age of star-crossed love so that felt very authentic to us to integrate that into the story."

"Although the situation at some points strikes as seemingly selfish [for Ethan], it's so much more complex than we even show this season. Once you really get to know what's going on behind the scenes with him, I think a lot more will be clear," Teale told ET of the love triangle. "I couldn't say which team. I think Ethan has his own connections with Bess. It's not hard to see that Colton and Sam, and Brittany and Bess [are] falling in love too. I'm just going to let people choose and by that notion probably choose Sam."

"I won't siphon away your vote but I'll take it. But actually, I kind of feel the same way as Sean in a lot of ways," Ryan told ET. "As I was watching it, I was thinking more of Team Bess honestly. I was saying to Sean, she should date whoever she wants. She's figuring it out and she does and that is fun to watch. But yeah, Team Sam."

Little Voice
Apple TV+

The first three episodes of Little Voice are streaming now on Apple TV+. New episodes drop weekly.

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