Vicci Martinez Launches Major Comeback with Role on ‘Orange is the New Black’

Tacoma-born singer-songwriter Vicci Martinez describes the months following her 2015 album “Enter-Exit-Stay” as her “rock bottom.”

Martinez still carried baggage from her appearance on NBC-TV’s “The Voice” in 2011 which led to a major label deal and “Come Along,” her single with show mentor CeeLo Green, but not the commercial breakthrough that many expected.

Making things worse was the backlash she faced from fans who weren’t happy that she’d abandoned the rootsy sounds they’d grown to love in favor of electronic pop material she’d created with Aaron Stevens of Tacoma alt-folk band Goldfinch and hip-hop producer DJ Phinisey. She was going broke trying to keep her production company afloat, she was drinking too much, and her emotions were spiraling out of control.

“I think I kind of had a little bit of a breakdown, and I just needed to get quiet,” said Martinez, 33, on Friday. “In the last couple of years I’ve been meditating a lot. I got sober for a year, and I wanted to go to rehab to learn how to deal with the fact that I like to drink and to be a healthy person. … I started really doing a lot of inner work.”

Now Martinez is ready for a major comeback. Starting Friday, July 27, millions will see her make her acting debut on the sixth season of hit Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” in what Entertainment Weekly has dubbed “a star-making performance.”

Recently, we caught up with the singer-turned-actor to talk about her latest big break, moving to the Big Apple and finding love. Here are a few highlights from that chat.

South Sound Mag: This will be the third hit TV show you’ve appeared on (including CBS-TV’s “Star Search” in 2003.) This time you’re acting. How did this whole thing come about?

Martinez: “Orange is the New Black” only does local hiring usually, except for their season regulars; but they were having a hard time finding (my character) Daddy. So I guess Jen Euston, the casting agent, went online and started searching, and she came across me.

She told me to make an audition tape. So I’m wearing a white wife beater and white shorts, and I’d just gotten a bruise on my face. I’d fallen off of a four-wheeler camping. I was all busted up, and she was like, “That might actually work really well.”

SSM: Tell me about your character and how you enter the story.

Martinez: (Daddy is) an androgynous, Latina woman that can basically turn straight people gay. I’m an inmate at the new prison that the season regulars are going to. I’m supposed to come off (as tough), but I’m a lover not a fighter. I can seem like a bad guy, but you’ll see.

SSM: In the trailer you’re with Daya (played by Dascha Polanco.) Which characters do you interact with the most?

Martinez: I interact with her a lot and Mackenzie Phillips (billed as Barbara.) There’s a lot of new characters that are in my block, the D block. We’ve got a boss, but I’m the one that’s kind of the stickler of our little gang. I make sure things are going as they’re supposed to.

Then, on the last episode, I was able to meet a really wonderful person named Emily Tarver who plays C.O. McCullough.

On set, we started talking about music, and she started singing along to one of my songs that I was showing her. Right when we saw each other (we thought), “Where has this person been all my life?” Now we live together, and we’re actually at the laundromat doing our laundry. We are a couple.

SSM: Well, that’s exciting. Is she the one who is in all those photos I see on your Instagram?

Martinez: Yeah, and there’s some stuff on my Facebook page, some videos of songs we’ve written together. They happen to be some of my favorite songs. I’ve just always wanted to duet with somebody.

SSM: So you’re working on music together.

Martinez: Me and Emily are a great writing team. I’m much better at coming up with music and melody ideas, and Emily executes the lyrics. We fit really perfectly, at least in my mind.

I have lots of music. I’m kind of debating on how I wanna release it. I’m just going to let that present itself. I wanted to at least wait till the show came out.

SSM: Is this your first acting gig? I was trying to remember if you’d done any indie films around here.

Martinez: I’ve never acted before. They got me a coach on the show after they started throwing me a bunch more lines. They basically said they just want me to do a really good job, and they liked how my role was developing. They want to make sure I don’t look stupid or waste their time and money. (She laughs.)

SSM: Did your experiences on “The Voice” and “Star Search” help prepare you for this at all?

Martinez: Those shows taught me how to go through wardrobe and hair and makeup. But that adrenaline with performing live is a different kind of adrenaline. With this, the adrenaline kicks in when somebody does something you’re not expecting, maybe changing a line or whatever. With me it’s like, “Oh s—! I have to say it exactly how it’s supposed to be.” I didn’t want to get in trouble; but it’s a little bit more relaxed, and if you mess up you can do it again.

SSM: What part of New York do you and Emily live in?

Martinez: Queens. I love it. We live right across the street from a little school. It’s so New York. It’s not like there are big ol’ fields or anything. It’s all concrete and looks like “Sesame Street.”

SSM: What do you miss about Tacoma?

Martinez: I miss my family, especially my nieces and nephews and the new babies that are coming out of my family. And I miss pho. Even when I was in Seattle I was like, “Damn, I can’t find the best pho.” The best is in Tacoma.

Oh yeah, and Point Defiance. We went to visit a week ago, and I took Emily to Point Defiance with my niece and my nephew. That is a magical place.

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