Lindsay Bruce's early accomplishments helped set her on a path that led to an appearance on "The Voice," but it was a long, sometimes difficult journey.

At 13, the Santa Rosa native wrote a book and a song about having lost her uncle on 9/11. In high school, she became an international model and local celebrity. All along, though, she wanted to write and sing her own songs, so after graduating from Santa Clara University, Bruce headed to Nashville to pursue the one dream that still eluded her.

But for Bruce, who returns tonight to NBC's highly rated reality show, the journey was a humbling experience. She was a struggling songwriter in a town where everybody is a struggling songwriter.

For five years, Bruce developed her craft, learned what she could and performed in nearly empty halls. Always optimistic, though, she pressed on.

A break came after three years in Nashville and at the very moment she was thinking of giving up on Music City once and for all.

"It was kind of a perfect storm of bad things," said the 25-year-old who has made it onto one of the celebrity team's on "The Voice," where singers compete for a recording contract.

"My landlord was selling the house, my roommate was moving, the production contract I had was expiring and my job ended. I was basically getting ready to move back home."

But on a rainy Monday night, she got a call to do a set at a BBQ joint and jumped on it. She showed up, got on stage and played ... to an empty house. Or so she thought.

"At first I thought it was only the sound guy," she said. "But on the way out someone approached me."

Turns out that person was a member of singer Gwen Stefani's entourage whose tour bus was parked nearby. He was so impressed that he invited her to meet the band and talk about music. They asked her for a CD.

The meeting led to other opportunties, including a chance to work with writers who were pitching songs to a former winner on "The Voice." While they weren't affiliated with the show, one of her writing partners suggested she try out for the show.

"It wasn't on my radar, really," she said. "I thought about it and I definitely was a fan of the show and would've loved to go on, but to me I was always a songwriter first and foremost. My voice was really the medium to get my songs to people."

She ended up attending a private audition in San Francisco and was asked to attend another and another. In one of the crazier turns of her young life, she ended up auditioning for "The Voice" coaches on TV in front of thousands of people. Her journey to that point made her feel that she had nothing to lose.

"When I was younger, I was so shy that when a teacher would ask me a question, I would try to get friend to answer it for me," she said. "The modeling I did in high school was initially really hard for me, but it helped me get over being really shy in front of people. You have to get to this place where you turn off that part of your brain that is the most critical about you."

Bruce said when she stepped onto "The Voice" stage to sing "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" by the Eli Young Band in the initial blind judging portion of the competitiion, she felt she was already a winner.

Now that she's made it to the team round — she is on the singer Shakira's team — she will compete for her own recording contract. Win or lose, though, Bruce is just happy to have a bigger audience for her songs.

"Just getting to stand in front of a 1,000 people after playing bars in front of almost no one, to me, that was a victory in itself," she said.

Bruce is about to take her turn on one of the biggest stages in television, a prospect she says she is ready for, no matter what.

"I always try to keep balanced about things but be ready because it's true that anything can happen," she said. "But at the same time, it's not easy. The odds are against you, so to get this far ... no one is more excited than me."

You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or elizabeth.cosin@ pressdemocrat.com.