PHOENIX – In her “New Day” music video, a focused Chelsea Fontenel walks through a tunnel with an athletic bag around her shoulder. As the bridge of the song builds and she moves closer to the light, a tennis court appears as she sings, “All I need is the ambition to carry on.”
Sacrificing for her tennis and music careers at Arizona State University is a norm for Fontenel, a native of Switzerland, but her ambition pushes her on the tennis court and in the recording booth, where she seamlessly switches her tennis racquet with a microphone depending on the time of day.
“I hope that I inspire others to never ever think that their dreams are too crazy or people telling them that they can’t do something,” Fontenel said.
During the school year, the sophomore arrives at the Whiteman Tennis Center six days a week to start practice at 8 a.m. As soon as practice ends, she heads to the studio for vocal practice.
As a freshman, Fontenel finished 15-5 in single matches and 13-5 in double matches for the ASU women’s tennis team. Off the tennis court, the singer released two music videos on YouTube and has four singles on Apple Music.
“She does everything with passion. She really loves making music and pretty much the same on the tennis court. She loves to practice,” ASU tennis coach Sheila Mclnerney said. “I was blown away at a banquet this spring in front of the athletic department. It was amazing.”
At 6, Fontenel learned that one career does not fulfill her true aspirations. Since then, through her love for tennis and music, she has been in pursuit of expressing her authenticity through music and sports. A former player in the European Junior Championships, “The Voice Kids” singer has lofty goals and wants to bring a new meaning to playing doubles.
“The dream would be to become the first singing tennis player. The reason why I say the first is because nobody’s ever done both at a high level at the same time,” Fontenel said. “The way I started seeing everything playing out (in the future) is like when I’m at tournaments … (the tournament officials) will have a player who’s going to be competing and an opening act. They have two-in-one type of talent.”
Growing up in Basel, Switzerland, Fontenel would sit with her parents to watch Serena Williams and Roger Federer. Seeing her parents’ love for tennis and watching Williams and Federer win at the highest levels sparked her to pick a tennis racquet. By 7, she was taking lessons and competing in tournaments.
“I just sort of started (playing tennis) because (my parents) like watching it. I just tried it and never laid down my racquet ever since,” Fontenel said. “When (I was) small and (I got my) first little trophies, (I got) really motivated. I started training more and winning more.”
Fontenel’s early wins helped her represent her country for the European Junior Championships at 11. The experience on the Switzerland junior team became a pivotal moment in her career because it was the first time she wasn’t on a stage by herself.
“Any time I got to (be a part of the Switzerland junior team) it was always so special. It was also different because as a tennis player, you used to always play on your own and for yourself,” Fontenel said. “(For the European Junior Championships) events, we actually played on a team sort of like in college, but before this experience, I never had that.”
Performing on a big stage was nothing new for Fontenel. Before she was on the national tennis team, she had already captivated an audience of over a million people. After singing with her church’s youth choir, a lady in the audience recommended that Fontenel’s parents enroll her into a singing competition.
They took the advice and signed her up for “The Voice Kids” television audition. Wearing a flowered dress with a sparkling necklace and earrings, the 8-year-old sang “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys in Germany. Within 10 seconds in her audition, two “The Voice Kids” coaches wanted to coach her for the season and another coach teared up.
Ten years later, Fontenel’s performance remains among the most popular videos on “The Voice Kids” YouTube channel with 105 million views.
“I was just enjoying the moment and focused on singing the song. Only after the song was finished, I really realized that all the judges turned around and that people really liked my performance,” Fontenel said.
From singing “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner at Roger Federer’s Match for Africa fundraising event to being a dubbed German voice actor in 2014 musical “Annie,” Fontenel’s TV debut brought her across the world. Despite frequent travel for music, she never let go of her tennis racket and practiced whenever she could find a court.
Becoming a professional tennis player and singer was the goal, but Fontenel and her family didn’t want to make the sacrifices that came with pursuing two careers initially.
On a family vacation in the United States, Fontenel visited a former teammate who attended IMG Academy. While there, she attended IMG tennis camp and picked up more fans.
“The coaches saw me and they’re like ‘Oh, we want you’ … but I was 12 at the time and my parents were like, ‘I am too young to come,’” Fontenel said.
The family vacation in 2016 sparked the idea of Fontenel moving to the United States. There was still a fear of her being miles away from family, but the family knew that attending IMG Academy would give her the best chance to play tennis and take music courses. She enrolled at 15.
“I discovered more colleges (in the U.S.) which sort of convinced me,” Fontenel said. “In Europe, we don’t have schools where you are able to get a degree and still play high level sports, especially not in Switzerland. It’s either you go pro or you study, there’s no combined thing.”
Through traveling for music and tennis, Fontenel was able to experience different cultures and lifestyles. Being away from her family for nine months out of the year comes with tough days, but with her coaches, teammates and friends, she finds comfort in her home away from home.
“I got a lot of help from the girls who had been (in the U.S.) before sort of settling in. They’re like, ‘Hey, if you have questions or you need to go to Target, we’ll take you,’” Fontenel said. “Everyone was really welcoming. They kind of made my welcome easier.”
Fontenel is back home in Switzerland spending time with family. When she returns to campus, she looks to reignite her ambition and get back to working on her careers.
With two European incoming freshmen joining the ASU tennis team, Fontenel is excited to help them with their transition to college just like coaches, teammates, and friends did for her.
“She’s committed to her being the best tennis player and being the best singer,” ASU voice instructor Brittany DeCristofaro said. “In both realms, she handles it with such grace. She’s always prepared and always on top of everything.”
Today, Fontenel is achieving her goals of playing at an elite level and making music at ASU. The aspiration is to sing at the Wimbledon’s open ceremony and compete in the tournament. A month until her sophomore year, she is ready to take another step towards her dream.
“I have some pretty big dreams. I’m just really lucky that I have a family that really supports me. My family is really invested in my dreams,” Fontenel said. “I really hope that one day I’ll be able to make everyone proud who’s ever helped me along the way.”