Skip navigation

From “The Voice” to TCC to VCU

As exhilarating as it was to be a national sensation on “The Voice,” blues singer Bria Kelly had her mind on a career path in addition to singing.

The Smithfield native, a top 10 performer who earned praise from Usher on the popular NBC reality television competition nearly two years ago, wants a future in advertising and creative direction for the entertainment industry. Virginia Commonwealth University, the top-ranked public university art school in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report, was the obvious choice.

But despite her 3.6 GPA, the Smithfield High School student got rejected after submitting a portfolio that she admits lacked versatility.

“It was the only school I applied to, and I didn’t realize how competitive it would be,” Kelly said. “I was heartbroken.”

A year after taking classes at Tidewater Community College’s Visual Arts Center, Kelly was accepted into VCU’s graphic arts program, her first choice for a major. An unexpected perk: Because all of her TCC credits transferred, Kelly entered VCU as a sophomore. Given that, she was able to bypass VCU’s Art Foundation program, typically a prerequisite for entry into the school’s fine art and design departments.

“The only reason Bria is at VCU is because of TCC,” said Bria’s father, Bob Kelly. “It’s plain and simple.”

Bria Kelly said she became proficient in Photoshop and Illustrator through her classes at the VAC, and felt in her element in the computer graphics classes. But she is especially grateful for the drawing instruction she received under professor Rob Hawkes.

“I had never done drawing before, and I mean, ever,” she said. “He was tremendous, and you could see the progression in my work, how much my skills developed over time.”

charcoal drawing of three pearsKelly’s final portfolio that earned her acceptance into VCU included a charcoal drawing of three pears, a self-portrait done in graphite, a panning-action photograph taken near the VAC and a collage of her mother’s art images, including notes she took from her own time taking classes at TCC’s former Portsmouth Campus.

Kelly said she enjoyed learning in the VAC, located in the heart of Olde Town Portsmouth.

“It’s a cool place,” she said. “I like the idea that there’s a gallery to showcase work, whether it’s by students or from a visiting exhibition. I loved the idea of having that downstairs while you’re working upstairs.”

TCC Alumni footer