Why I Admire Alicia Keys

By GGTW Co-founder and contributing editor Tricia Yacovone-Biagi

My nephew and I often watched The Voice together, especially those seasons when Alicia Keys was a judge. He loved all the judges (especially when he had a huge crush on Miley Cyrus), but Alicia Keys was the one who inspired me the most because of her approach to leadership and mentoring. She not only shared the expected tips and lessons about music and performing, but she surprisingly also dosed out equal measures of how to live life as your truest self. I found her encouraging statements to the contestants more about how to live life genuinely than simply how to win the competition.

Even the other coaches would comment on the transcendence of Alicia’s advice to the nascent singers, like when Gwen Stefani said, “Already I feel like I’m a better person just sitting next to you on the show!” (And she wasn’t the only one to make that specific comment about Keys, either.) I admire someone who can cause a variety of people to utter that comment over and again, and I wondered how any of us regular folks could capture some of that special Alicia Keys juju. Here’s what I came up with.

You gotta be honest. Even when the news isn’t good for people, it’s better to be honest with them. It’s better for them, but mostly it helps keep your own life tidy. (Or, as one GGTW reader phrased it in her blog post last month, it reduces the amount of BS in your life.) Alicia Keys put it this way in an interview back in 2007: “It’s very important to say what I mean and what I feel no matter what goes on because otherwise I risk losing myself.”

Nobody’s perfect. Not even someone with 15 Grammys and a New York Times bestseller. There’s so much pressure on us to do everything right, we forget that we’re just human and perfection is impossible. Go-getter Jessi Behrendsen wrote about making mistakes and moving on with newfound wisdom, and here’s what Alicia Keys says about it in her own words: “(Perfection) is not real and it’s a word that tears us down. There is no way to be perfect and no fun in being perfect. You can’t be happy unless you let yourself be vulnerable and make mistakes because we’re always evolving.”

woman walking alone on a sand dune

Be fearless. So many people limit themselves because of unfounded fears. Don’t do that! You’ll never know what you can do if you never try anything new. Find inspiration in stories like that of our friend Shawna Hyde, who left her job, her city and what she knew to start a new career. Shawna told us, “Never allow fear to derail a dream;” and Keys admitted, “I’ve erased the word fear from my vocabulary and I think when you erase fear you can’t fail.”

road and bridge lost in fog

Have empathy. We’ve written here about simply being kind and raising our own awareness about what others may be going through. Alicia Keys says, “If we took the time to learn more about different places and people, perhaps we would have more empathy for each other. I’ve seen so many lives turn around from the impossible. I have come to embrace the idea that even the simplest act of understanding, love and attention can produce the biggest results.”


You can make a difference, no matter who you are. Like the two sisters, aged 8 and 13, who read to other kids every night on social media, or the four year-old girl who started a lemonade stand to raise money to find a cure for children’s cancer. After a visit to South Africa, Alicia Keys co-founded an organization that gets HIV medication to children with AIDS in Africa while still in her 20s. Keys shared these nuggets of wisdom about her efforts in a conversation with Forbes magazine: “There is no age requirement for making a difference. For those of us who have been fortunate to have success early in our careers, we have the opportunity to use that unique platform. … But I also believe that you don’t just have to be a celebrity or wealthy to be affected by an issue and want to do something about it! We all hold unlimited power and we should use it!”

Person on a mountain

I discovered some interesting facts about Alicia Keys as I wrote this story, a story that simply started out as an observation about how a coach and judge treated the people to whom she was responsible. I suspected the positive demeanor and focus she exhibited on The Voice represented the outward expression of someone with a strong commitment to supporting humanity and sharing positivity. Now I am convinced that that’s who she is, and I hope each of us can adopt at least one of her maxims–as I’ve identified them–for living a full and gracious life. Go get the world, my friends!

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