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For Chicago’s Sa’Rayah, ‘The Voice’ just part of a journey

Sa'Rayah on "The Voice." | NBC

Her parents raised five children amidst the poverty, gangs and drugs defining the Cabrini-Green public housing project in the 1980s and ’90s, yet clung to the church even as her mother battled crack addiction then engulfing so many.

The 29-year-old sang her first song at her family’s church at the tender age of 5. An angelic voice unleashed accolades and the passion of a lifetime, as she’d continue to sing in church and with an event and wedding band, the Chicago Catz.

So by the time Chicago native Sa’Rayah auditioned for NBC’s “The Voice” — performing an a capella rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Drown in My Own Tears” that spun judges Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys around in their chairs — all roads had led to this.

“I began in the church, and I’m still in the church,” says Sa’Rayah, who was one of 12 selected from a sea of hopefuls nationwide for Season 11 of the reality TV show, which airs its two-night finale Monday and Tuesday.

Sa’Rayah was introduced on the Sept. 19 season premiere and eliminated Nov. 15. But she’ll be back to perform on Tuesday’s show.

“The Voice” has been a wonderful ride for the deeply spiritual young woman, a high after some of life’s lows. Her mother long ago recovered from addiction. She’s in the middle of a divorce from the man she’d saved herself for in marriage, and she and 2-year-old daughter Nylah have moved back home with her parents in Country Club Hills.

“I feel like my entire life has led up to this moment,” she says of her time on “The Voice” and the doors it’s opened.

“I’ve always had a passion for singing, but my whole life I’ve always felt there was a greater purpose, a greater calling,” she says. “It was as I began to grow older that I realized this gift I have is just an avenue for people to know there is a God.”

“The Voice” pits talented singers against one another for a chance at $100,000 and a record deal. This is the first season with two women among the four coaches, who also include Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. The coaches sit with their backs to the singers, pushing a button and swiveling when they hear a voice they want on their team, then mentor their team members as the contestants’ ranks are whittled down each week.

Sa’Rayah initially chose Cyrus’ team over Keys’. But after she lost to a fellow Cyrus team member, Keys and Shelton vied to steal her, and Sa’Rayah chose Keys.

“I chose Miley because I wanted to do something outside of my box,” Sa’Rayah says. “I wanted to spread my wings and show the world I was capable of much more than you’d expect.

“And working with Miley served its purpose. I feel like everything happens the way it needs to. It was beyond amazing to work with Alicia, who saw something in me and fought for me the entire rest of my journey. She’s just as genuine as she seems on the screen and will bare her soul to you.

“Because of who God has been in my life, I have no choice but to allow God to shine through when I do what I do, and Alicia was able to pick up on that. That gave us an even closer bond. The day I got eliminated, I didn’t have my phone. Alicia said, ‘Go get your phone, and come back.’ I did, and she gave me her personal number. She’s now a big sister to me, and we text.”

The aspiring artist remained in Los Angeles after being cut, taking advantage of  opportunities that came as a result of the show. She was tapped to close out The Black AIDS Institute’s Heroes in the Struggle Gala and Award Celebration Dec. 1 at the Directors Guild of America, where Lee Daniels was honored.

Described by Keys as a “ray of light,” Sa’Rayah is working on an album with a Chicago producer, preparing for a January homecoming concert to be announced soon and hoping a faithful social media following picked up during the show continues to grow.

“Growing up in Cabrini-Green, a project notorious for everything that’s happening right now in Chicago, I learned that, in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of a world that’s set up to do nothing but destroy you, there is a God, and He hears our prayers,” Sa’Rayah says.

“You might think, ‘Aw, she didn’t win the show,’ but winning and winning are two totally different things sometimes,” she says.

“I am winning! I have people’s attention, and now that I have your attention, I can take you on this beautiful journey God is allowing to take place in my life. Our youth need definite examples of possibility, and I’d like to serve as that example.”

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Sa’Rayah with Alicia Keys. | NBC