Hamilton's Cunningham sisters take their music ministry nationwide on 'The Voice'

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Oct. 11—It was a surprise to many that Hamilton's Cunningham sisters didn't choose fellow Ohioan and Springfield native John Legend to be their coach on "The Voice" singing competition on NBC. It even surprised Marie and Macie Cunningham themselves a bit.

"In the moment, I even thought we were about to choose John," Marie said in an interview with the Journal-News.

"So did I," said Macie.

"But then it was like — but then we looked at each other and we just both said, 'Kelly' (Clarkson)," Marie said.

What made the difference was Kelly's description of how she could help strengthen their harmonies and keep them more in line with each other, which is something they say they need.

"When she said that, it was kind of the deal-breaker, because that's like exactly what we need," Macie said.

They didn't consult before simultaneously picking Clarkson.

What if they would have blurted out different names?

"That would have been scary," Macie said.

"Yeah," Marie said. "I don't know what would have happened."

"I just feel like me and Marie think the same, and I just feel like when we looked at each other, we both like made that look, of 'Kelly?' Like 'Team Kelly,'" Macie said. "We just said her name at the same time."

Not that they necessarily would have chosen young superstar Ariana Grande with the incredible singing voice, but, "We were definitely hoping that Ari turned, because we knew that she's young and she's able to relate to a lot of the things we relate to, because of how young she is, and where she is in the industry," Marie said.

"Even if we weren't going to pick her as our coach," Macie added, "it would still be awesome for her to turn around for us, because she's like an amazing singer. She can go crazy."

Only Clarkson and Legend turned their seats, seeking to coach the Cunninghams, but Grande expressed regret she hadn't. Legend was disappointed they picked Clarkson.

The pair haven't been seeing their friends at Hamilton High School and the Freshman School, but they do see them around town, and went to the Homecoming dance, where their sister, Maura Cunningham, was Homecoming Queen. Their dad, Marc Cunningham, was DJ at the dance.

They watch the program when it airs, like everyone else, and learn things about the other contestants, such as their life stories, some of them very inspiring, some heartbreaking. Having seen the other contestants, but not knowing what they sound like until they're on television is also fascinating for them.

How did they stay so calm during their blind-audition song?

They sang what both consider one of their best performances ever when they performed Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin's "Never Alone" for that audition.

"Usually in the beginning my adrenaline is kicking before we go on stage, anytime," Marie said. "But when I get on stage and we take a deep breath and we just say we're going to give it to God, everything calms down and it's just like we're just in a moment with us and God."

Many contestants get very excited when one of the program's coaches turn their chair, Macie explained.

"For me," Macie said, "it's like I'm freaking out before the chair turns around. I'm like, 'Oh, my goodness, is the chair gonna turn? But then when the chair turns, I'm like so calm the rest of the time, because I'm like, 'OK, we already know we're on the show. We're on a team now." So her heart calms down, "and I just sing with everything that I have for the little bit left of the song."

Their trip to stardom was a long way in the making. The pair have been singing with Hamilton singer and voice teacher Kelly MacKenzie-Thurley since about ages 5 and 7. They worked with her during the competition as well, practicing the song "from morning to sunset," Macie said.

The pair, who come from generations of Hamilton Gospel singers and musicians, chose "Never Alone" because they like its message and relate to its lyrics, they said: "We're never alone, and we never were alone," Macie said.

They see music as their ministry: "It's the gift that God gave us, and we use it to minister to his people," Macie said.

Just before they began singing, Macie told Marie: "Sing your heart out, baby girl."

"I don't say it every time," Macie said, when asked. "I usually just think it, and we pray before we sing together. But I just felt it in the moment."

What do they think when they see a contestant not chosen by any coach?

"I just think everybody has their own path," Marie said. "And everybody's gonna go somewhere in life. And it may not all be the same. But I do think that if they don't get chosen, they have something greater in store."

"God has something for everybody's life," Macie said.

Macie said it's an honor to compete against "ridiculously talented people."

Here's their message to people who have been watching them: "Stay strong, no matter what you're going through. You have a purpose in life, and you're beautiful. And never let anybody stop you from what you want to do," Marie said.

"And you're never alone," Macie added.

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