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'Voice' contenders overcome drugs, disease and tragedies in pursuit of dream


"Voice" contestants Jamar Rogers, Erin Willett and Charlotte Sometimes have each faced big personal trials.

Some of the best singers on reality TV come with most compelling backstories.  The contestants on "The Voice" are no exception.

Before we head into the first live show of the season Monday night, let's take a look at five of the people who will be competing for America's votes -- and the personal struggles they overcame before reaching the Top 24.

Charlotte Sometimes beats crippling jaw disease
A rare disease called condylar resorption caused the New Jersey teen's jaws to literally begin breaking apart when she was just 16. Charlotte's chances of singing again were dashed until doctors extracted two of her ribs and used them to rebuild her face.

“I still don’t look exactly like I would look if I didn’t have the disease, because I opted not to have a second surgery,” Charlotte told TODAY.com.  “Instead, I get these injections every year -- or sometimes not, depending on how insecure I am feeling.”

In 2008, Charlotte released a CD on Geffen Records before getting dropped from the label.  She is now happily dating New York stage actor David Barlow. The couple met through an online dating service.

And her medical condition?

“I know some girls who have had it come back, but I have been eight years clear," she explained.  "It is unlikely it will come back.”

Erin Willett’s father dies during battle rounds
Erin, a graduate of Hofstra University and member of Team Blake, never intended for her father’s last days to play out in front of a national TV audience. 

“I found out I was coming to California (for the blind auditions) the same day I found out my dad had (pancreatic) cancer,” she recalled in a talk with TODAY.com. “So I had already gone through a long process with the show. He was actually supposed to come out for the battle rounds. I had spoken to him less than a week before he passed away. That is how quickly it happened.”

Erin, 22, immediately gave up her apartment in Brooklyn and moved back to Gaithersburg, Md., to be with her family before returning to L.A. for the live episodes of “The Voice.”

Jamar Rogers is HIV positive, but drug free after battling crystal meth
Jamar, a New York food bank volunteer and member of Team Cee Lo, found out six years ago that he was HIV positive -- the result of a long-time addiction to crystal meth.

“I had been using pretty hardcore for about five years,” he told the New York Post. “I had gotten down to 125 pounds. It was bad.

“None of my friends would let me live with them, because I was stealing from them. I literally was homeless. My whole family didn’t know where I was for like two years.”

Rogers, 29, said he decided to get clean after the birth of his daughter, Freedom, in 2007.

Two years later, he made it to Hollywood Week on “American Idol.”

Chris Mann’s mother diagnosed with cancer
Opera singer Chris said he wanted to “pack it up and head home” when he found out his mother had been diagnosed with Stage I pancreatic cancer last year.  

“It was terrifying,” he revealed during blind auditions on "The Voice."  “That is the same cancer that took Steve Jobs' life. ... She is staying home and fighting for her life, and she wanted me to stay and fight for my dream.”

When TODAY.com caught up with Mann this week in between rehearsals, he reported that Mom was “doing well” after a long, successful surgery.  Sadly, the Wichita resident also revealed that one of his closest friends had unexpectedly died this week from Stage III brain cancer.

“The song I am singing (Monday) is really pertinent to these things I am having to deal with,” he said. “So I am excited to sing it. I am definitely going to sing it for Frank and his wife, Lisa.”

Naia Kete sings for tips in Santa Monica
For the past year and a half, Naia Kete has been making ends meet by singing for tips on Third Street Promenade, a popular tourist destination just steps from Santa Monica beach.

“I am down there hustling three, four days a week usually," she told TODAY.com. "That is how me, my brother and my boyfriend make a living.”

Right after her blind audition aired, the big bucks started flowing in, she said, “then it kind of leveled off.”

Naia, 21, grew up in Western Massachusetts, performing with her entire family in a reggae band.  

“My stepdad started the group back in Dakar, Senegal, where he is from. (He) brought it out here, met my mom, she joined the group, my dad joined the group, then my brother joined the group, (and) then I joined the group,” she explained.  “I was in that group until I was about 17. Then I made my (first) album while simultaneously teaching African dancing and drumming.”

"The Voice" airs at 8 p.m. Mondays on NBC. (TODAY.com is powered by msnbc.com, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Do the touching personal stories have an impact on who you root for on "The Voice"? Share your thoughts about it on our Facebook page.

Sean Daly runs the blog SingersAndCritics.com, which covers reality singing-competition shows.

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