We’re not sure how the rest of James Violet’s 15 minutes — or years — of fame will go, but the first five minutes certainly were impressive.
The Syracuse singer-songwriter recently wowed the celebrity coaches on the televised blind auditions for NBC’s “The Voice,” then surprised everyone with his unexpected choice for a mentor.
Each season, the singing competition begins with what are called the blind auditions. The four celebrity coaches on the show (this year it’s singer-songwriters Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson and John Legend) sit in chairs facing away from the stage. In this way, they can hear — but not see — the contestants as they sing.
When a coach hears someone they want for their team, they push a button and their chair turns around to face the contestant. If no one turns, the contestant goes home. If just one turns, the contestant is assigned to that coach’s team. But if more than one turns around, the contestant gets to decide which coach he or she wants to work with.
In subsequent rounds, contestants work with their coaches and perform songs in an attempt to avoid getting eliminated.
In Violet’s blind audition, which aired Oct. 1, he got three of the four coaches to turn around. Only Legend passed, saying he already had similar artists on his team.
Clarkson was first, turning her chair around early in the audition. Shelton turned at the end of the song, followed quickly by Stefani.
It seemed as though Violet would almost certainly pick Clarkson, who was the only one of the four who recognized Violet’s song choice of “Sweet Creature” by Harry Styles. But Violet instead went with Stefani, surprising the coaches, the audience and even — perhaps — himself.
“I wanted you to gasp,” Violet said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Syracuse. “That was my thing. I knew Kelly was the right decision in most situations, and I knew that was the way I was leaning.”
So then what made him go with Stefani?
“I know, personally, that I grow the most when I’m out of my comfort zone,” he explained. “When I stand out, I do my best — and Gwen offered me that. I also wanted to shock people, maybe not make the most vanilla decision.”
Violet said that in running scenarios before the audition, if given the chance he’d go with either Clarkson or Legend.
“So when John didn’t turn around but Kelly did, I was surprised I didn’t go with her,” he admits.
Violet’s choice of song for the blind audition was particularly meaningful to him. He’s a big fan of Styles; it’s where his tastes lie.
And that particular song has particular meaning for Violet. After high school, he moved to Southern California for about a year and made a little extra money by busking on the streets of Los Angeles.
“That was one of the main songs I’d busk with, so it was great to be able to use that for my audition,” he said.
Violet was born in Phoenix, Arizona, but his family moved to Utah when he was about a year old. He attended local schools, eventually graduating from Syracuse High School. He’s currently a student at Weber State University in Ogden, majoring in business marketing.
From an early age, Violet has always wanted to be a musician. But he also knows you need a backup plan — hence, college.
“It’s smart to have a degree, and business marketing can help in marketing myself,” he said.
The man with a voice that the celebrity coaches described as “gorgeous” and “soothing, emotional, relaxed,” with a “nice glass of wine vibe,” admits that he’s an introvert. Indeed, part of the reason Violet would play on the streets was to get over that fear.
“Especially when I was a kid, I was a major, major introvert,” he said. “But I had to make a decision — ‘Do you want to be an artist, or an introvert? You can’t do both.’”
Violet’s next step in the singing competition is the battle round, which will begin in mid-October. He believes the key to being able to survive deep into Season 17 of “The Voice” will be to remain true to himself and his music.
“I think that I need to stay myself, stay unapologetically unique,” Violet said. “That will take me far in this competition.”
Indeed, after last week’s blind audition, Tyke James, a former contestant on “The Voice,” reached out to Violet.
“He made it pretty far on the show,” Violet said. “We talked for awhile, and he told me the same thing I just told you. He said, ‘Man, you gotta stay unique and stay yourself.’”
Violet said that it’s easy to get caught up in the heat of competition and try to wow people with high notes and runs. But that can just funnel you into the role of generic “The Voice” singer.
“If you can stay in your own lane, you can really thrive — not only with the competition, but with life in general,” he said.
Violet said he wants to represent the state and the people of Utah. But more than anything, he hopes to inspire others and show them that they can succeed as well.
“Of course, I want the start of a bigger career for myself, but that correlates with wanting to show others that they can do it,” he said. “Just know you can do it. This was my thing, but if I made it as a small-town dude, you can, too.”