The pint-sized powerhouse didn't expect to make it far, even before nailing her rendition of Labrinth and Emeli Sandé's "Beneath Your Beautiful" during her jaw-dropping blind audition. The battle rounds -- which immediately follow the blind auditions -- saw Cartelli sing her way to a harmonious defeat of teammate Dylan Hartigan, although she seemed to believe otherwise.
"I actually have a video my dad took at a lacrosse tournament right before I went to blind [auditions], and it was me being like, 'Listen, Dad, if I turn a chair, and if I don’t win my battle, I’m OK with it. I’m just happy to be there,’" Cartelli explains. "Then I went on to my battle, and I literally thought I was going to lose...I still don’t understand how I lasted that long, but it’s really crazy and I’m really thankful."
The topic of Cartelli's age almost began sounding like a broken record by the season's end, beginning from the moment coach Adam Levine compared her sound to "a 36-year-old who's been through it." But the self-proclaimed "old soul" wants to be remembered for her talent alone regardless, and doesn't think her youth should affect her opportunities any more than peers twice her age.
"I’ve never used [my age] to my advantage," she insists. "It was just a thing the coaches are always impressed by and the show is always impressed by. But I’m just a hard worker, and I think that you don’t need to have age to be a hard worker. I've really never let my age get in the way of my music."
Throughout her time on the show this season, Cartelli effervescently delivered renditions of hits from predecessors up to almost 60 years her senior. She tributed a slew of genre-spanning artists including Lady Gaga, Patty Griffin, Rascal Flatts, Adele and Sia.
"I did a lot of everything," Cartelli recalls. "I would say my favorite performance that I did, which was really unexpected, was ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay. That one, it was so emotional and it was so relatable for anyone who’s ever been through any problem, big or small. I never expected -- even with all that goes on in the show -- to be singing Coldplay. ‘Fix You’ just worked. Everything just really clicked for me there."
Of her eventual win, Cartelli gives much credit to coach Clarkson, whose authenticity both on-screen and off struck a chord with her youngest protégée.
"There’s a lot of crazy people in this industry, but [Clarkson is] really down to earth and humble and so genuinely kind all the time," Cartelli gushes. "It's not her putting up this image of who she wants to be on camera and who she wants to be seen as by the public, but it’s just who she is. She genuinely is looking out for each and every one of her teammates from the 12 original people...she’s surrounded by these amazing people and she taught me that I have to do that as well. It’s really important to find a team of people who you love, and who love you, and you’re comfortable around yourself, and enjoy every process and this moment in your life. She’s been so, so helpful."
To further evidence her good nature, Cartelli also recalls Clarkson bringing her six-person bunch of the Top 24 on a group field trip to Universal Studios Hollywood.
"We rode all the rollercoasters with her, every single one of them," Cartelli says. "We were just doing normal things with her. It was amazing and it was so much fun. I’ll never forget that day...And she wanted to do it off camera, just because that’s the kind of person she is. She was like, ‘your lives are gonna be crazy. You need to take this time to let it be normal and just have fun.’"
But even after sitting front row on thrill rides and earning multiple carnival game prizes ("I have the stuffed animals to prove it!") Cartelli admits she's nervous for the dramatic changes in her life that are already unfolding. As a motivated student and athlete who insists on attending college, she worries how school will intermingle with her career.
"I love school, and I love learning, and school really does inspire me for a lot of my writing -- just being in public school with people and watching things happen," Cartelli explains. "I don’t love school work all the time and sometimes I wanna lose my mind, but it’s really inspiration. So I don’t know how that’s gonna work, and I’m kind of scared. But I want to do music and I want that to be the highlight of everything that I do. I want that at the forefront."
Despite the nerves, sacrifices and overbearing load of uncertainty, Cartelli is positive that music is the path she's destined to take.
"I thought back to when we recorded 'Walk My Way,'" Cartelli says about her debut single. "I was really really proud of myself. I was like, 'if there was any doubt that I want to be in music before, this just cleared it all away and it’s for sure now.' Just because of that adrenaline of recording music people haven’t heard yet and it’s coming from me, and it was amazing. The sacrifices all seemed worth it then. I’m really trying to think it all through, but I think that’s how I know I’m in the right spot."
With Cartelli's varied performances comes a pressure from fellow songwriters to hone in on her sound, a step she's not yet ready to take. Instead, she plans to pursue whatever feels natural to her in the moment, rather than sonically confining herself.
"I’m just gonna roll with it," she says. "I’m just gonna make music that I love. And I want to make it relatable, I want to make it fun, but I also want to make things emotional and I want to be real. I want to have the chance to get better and work with more and more people, and get more opportunities. I’m just really excited for the future."