On Oct. 6’s primetime television, Barnegat-Light-born Matt McAndrew was the first contestant shown on NBC’s “The Voice.” During his introduction, McAndrew pointed to his first tattoo: an empty box on the back of his wrist. If he signs with a record label, a check will be added to that box.
Then, the episode shifted over to McAndrew’s performing at a blind audition. The judges, “Happy” artist Pharrell Williams, Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine, singer Gwen Stefani and country artist Blake Shelton, had their seats turned away as McAndrew performed. If a seat turned back, McAndrew passed the audition. If not, McAndrew’s clichéd “15 minutes of fame” would be more like two minutes for the time being. If multiple seats are turned, the judges would have to pitch McAndrew to be his coach for the season. If McAndrew wins “The Voice,” he and his coach would be dubbed the winners, making it different than every other talent show. The potential grand prize for McAndrew: a record contract.
Got all of that? Yeah, it was a lot for McAndrew to handle, too.
“I thought I was confident and ready to go, but as soon as the doors opened and I started walking out …” McAndrew said before pausing.
As McAndrew mentions in an interview on “The Voice” website, his knees locked and his confidence dwindled. He said because there had been so much hype leading up to this television appearance, the build-up made the 90 seconds seem much longer.
McAndrew chose the song “Thousand Years” by Christina Perri, a fellow graduate of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He wanted a song he could connect to on an emotional level. He felt the song is beautiful overall, noting the piano and string arrangements. He figured if he could first lose himself in the song, then – hopefully – the judges, audience and everyone else would follow.
About 20 seconds into McAndrew’s performance, Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine turned his chair, indicating that McAndrew had passed this blind audition.
“It stopped being a show, and it turned into something I was thoroughly enjoying,” Levine said during the show after giving a standing ovation following McAndrew’s performance.
Despite his passing this audition within seconds, McAndrew’s nervousness increased as Levine stared him down. Once McAndrew hit the chorus of his song, Pharrell and Blake Shelton also turned their chairs in approval.
“I’ve been waiting for a voice like this,” Pharrell said, pitching himself as McAndrew’s coach following the performance.
From the moment Pharrell and Shelton turned their chairs and McAndrew was singing the chorus, his nerves finally subsided, and he later could describe the moment only as “surreal.”
The Path To ‘The Voice’
“The whole ‘Voice’ thing kind of came out of left field for me,” McAndrew said.
He admitted that during various performances, people would come up to him and suggest trying out for the show. He would shrug off these suggestions mainly because he lacked the confidence to go out on television and kick ass. He also felt the show wasn’t “his scene” because he had a true passion for creating his own music.
However, things have obviously panned out differently for McAndrew. He said the show is, for now, the center of his music career, and he is thrilled to be a part of “The Voice.”
This was possible with a little push from his best friend, Manahawkin resident Matthew Hillblom. Hillblom found out the show had a casting call in Philadelphia.
“He was the one who was like, ‘Dude, you’re in Philly. It’s right in your hometown. Like, you don’t really have any excuse to not do it,’” McAndrew said.
Auditions were held in Philadelphia back in January. Now in October, folks are seeing the benefits of that little push. He stood in front of four stars, three of whom were pitching themselves to be his coach. He selected Levine.
McAndrew could easily list the reasons why he selected Levine as his coach: He’s a “phenomenal” vocalist with a high range, a masterful falsetto and more. All of these are elements that McAndrew wants to work on. He also felt a connection to Levine because of the star’s musical background with Kara’s Flowers, the alternative band that eventually became Maroon 5. He noted the “Beatles lineage” Levine had with Kara’s Flowers.
McAndrew also appreciates what Levine is now – a commercial success with a more pop style.
“He represents what I would love to have as an artist,” McAndrew said. “He has a lot of artistic integrity, but his music is also accessible and reaches a lot of people.”
Levine also had some praise for McAndrew’s singing during the show, saying, “It is genre-less, and I think that’s it’s best quality.”
All kind words aside, we’ll now have to see how far McAndrew makes it.
“The Voice’s” current episodes are not live; we don’t know how far McAndrew makes it. Yet there is one certainty: The show will end. He hopes life doesn’t go back to normal.
McAndrew has put out a debut album, View of the Pines, and he believed it would be his big break after years of effort. He said the album hasn’t been dominating his life – “The Voice” has. But after the show is over, he wants to simply keep writing and performing.
McAndrew’s aspirations have always been high, creating a relentless motivation. While he’s currently sharing an apparent with his mother and sister in Philadelphia, their roots are on the Island.
“I’m from Barnegat Light. I grew up on LBI for my whole life before I went to college,” McAndrew said. “There wasn’t much of a music scene or culture much at all growing up. As you know, it’s pretty dead right now until summertime.”
McAndrew said that for much of his childhood, he tried to figure out who he was. He would just listen to music and walk the beach alone. He also wrote songs and hoped he would be the “one anomaly” that would live his dreams. Looking back, he calls the Island beautiful and a great place to grow up.
“Now, living in Philly, I appreciate it in a different way,” McAndrew said. “It’s just so beautiful. As beautiful and serene as it is, it obviously doesn’t afford you the same opportunities musically and culturally as living in a major city does. But, it was a great, isolated place for me to dream and build on things.”
He wants young people in the area who have similar aspirations to his to keep writing and pursuing those goals and hopes this can build the area’s music culture. He added that he didn’t realize how close Philadelphia and New York City are until he entered college, and he wants kids to realize those cultural hubs aren’t as far away as they appear.
“It’s easy to feel like you’re trapped in the middle of nowhere, but it is easy to get out and do something,” McAndrew said.
– Reposted from The Sandpaper, 10/15/14