Even here, Jordan Smith is not safe.
Sitting alone in his car in a nursing home parking lot after a visit with his grandmother, with the windows rolled up while he’s clearly distracted on a phone call, Jordan Smith deals with yet another fan request.
Can you hold on? he asks.
A few minutes later, Smith explains that a fan saw him and wanted a photo. “It’s been a whirlwind since the show,” says Smith. “Everything has been turned upside down. I’m making so many adjustments to my life. I’ve gotten engaged now, so pretty much everything is different than the way it was before. Coming home is like a breath of fresh air, but it’s also like I’m living two separate lives in a way. I’m with my family and my fiancée, which is great, but things are even different here.”
Smith says it’s difficult to describe the ensuing maelstrom that began the moment he stepped on the stage for the blind auditions to sing Sia’s “Chandelier” for season nine of The Voice. For a show predicated on stellar singing talent, Smith’s effortless tenor blew everyone away from the first note. In that moment, Smith became the odds-on favorite to win his season, prompting Adam Levine to say, “I think you’re the most important person that’s ever been on this show.”
Levine was right.
Going home again
Smith is currently enjoying a week at home in his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky, an eye within a hurricane of press requests, media appearances, fan fervor and, of course, performances. Lots of performances.
The distance between Whitley County, Kentucky, and Los Angeles is far more than the 2,281 physical miles. The chance to be at home in Harlan, a small town of 1,745 resting in the far Southeastern corner of the state, has allowed Smith to let his guard down, to simply be himself around those he knows, loves and trusts. These are the people who sought out his attention before the spotlights were turned on, and before all four celebrity judges turned their chairs. Yet even here, the few residents who were strangers before are now among those seeking something from Smith. Fame, as it turns out, never takes a break.
It’s a beautiful place and everyone knows each other, says Smith of his hometown. “It’s a very small town. But even today, I’m visiting my grandma at the hospital this morning, and it’s hard to even get in and out in the door because I have to stop and take pictures and sign something. It’s home but it is a little different. Still, my family and friends haven’t changed a bit, and they still treat me the same, so that’s a wonderful thing. They don’t even notice a difference. They still ask me to babysit or wonder when I’m going to come over and play video games. That’s the way I like it.”
It’s here in Harlan that Smith’s musical and spiritual roots were planted. Smith says he remembers singing around the house as a kid and says his childhood was filled with music. “We have home videos of me standing on a chair at the dining room table at dinner, making up a song for everyone.” His first performance came a bit later, at an early piano recital. “I remember it so vividly,” he says. “I had on a blue shirt and a little tie, and I played a song for my piano teacher.”
Smith’s obvious musical talents led him to not only practice the piano, but he also began to perform in local choirs. Smith remembers several choir trips, being involved in a children’s choir and other musical memories, but he says he never seriously considered a career in music until he was in high school. It was here that his mother intervened and told him just what an incredible gift he really had.
Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor, says Smith. “I loved music, but I thought it was something that would be a hobby. I wanted to be a doctor, and my grandfather that I was closest to had Parkinson’s. He was diagnosed long before I was born. That was all I ever knew of him, and I wanted to be a neurologist because I thought I wanted to help those people—to perform brain surgeries and fix people. My mom sat me down one day and said, ‘Jordan, I know you want to be a doctor and do something in the medical field, but I just can’t see you doing anything else every single day for the rest of your life and being as happy as you would as a musician.’ That’s when it hit me.”
Smith’s mom knew what the rest of America would discover several years later: His voice was a true gift and it needed encouragement to be opened.
Where I’m from, music isn’t a very practical career choice, he says with a laugh. “There isn’t a lot around here for musicians unless you want to be like an elementary music teacher, and even those jobs are hard to come by. So for her to say that to me was a big deal, because she is all about being practical and having a backup plan and everything. That was the first moment I realized, ‘She’s totally right.’ I want to make a career out of this.’
She was right. It’s such a big part of who I am. Not only am I happy doing it, and not only does it bring me joy to make music, it is just me. That’s when I am at my best, and when I am my best self, is when I am making music and doing what I love.
Harlan, Kentucky’s only other musical claim to fame: Nick Lachey.
If at first you don’t succeed …
What makes Jordan Smith’s success on and after The Voice was that the singer was rejected the first time he auditioned.
The previous year, in February 2014, Smith was a student at Lee University, a Christian liberal arts college located in Cleveland, Tennessee when some friends heard about an open call for The Voice in Nashville. Smith performed well enough at the “cattle call” in Music City to earn a call back. After another performance the following week, again in Nashville, that would take him to the blind auditions, Smith drove back to school and never heard another word. His dream, as he believed it, was over.
I had always loved the show and been a great fan, he says. “I felt it was something I was supposed to do. I thought it was my destiny. I thought it was fate! I was kind of devastated, because I felt such strong connection to the show. I had been a fan since season one, and I knew pretty much every contestant that had ever been on the show. So when it didn’t work out, I was devastated.”
Fast forward one year, to February 2015, when Smith says an unforeseen second chance came with what he calls “funny” timing. “I was having a conversation with my fiancée, Kristen, about how I wished I could have done better, how if I had just one more chance that I knew could do better on The Voice. The very next day, a talent scout for the show emailed me.”
That scout turned out to be Anthony Evans, former contestant on The Voice and son of author/pastor Tony Evans, who was completely oblivious to Smith’s failed audition the previous year. Evans had watched a video of Smith singing at Lee University and thought he’d be a good fit. Two weeks later, Smith found himself at a private audition in Atlanta, once again made the callbacks and the rest is history.
Working as a professional
$100,000, a Nissan Altima and a recording contract from Republic Records. Those were the prizes Jordan Smith received for winning The Voice. Smith is the best-selling vocalist to ever appear on the show’s nine seasons, and his songs consistently topped the iTunes charts week after week. It was safe to assume his debut album would do well.
For his debut album, Something Beautiful, Smith worked with producers Steven Foster (Céline Dion, Madonna) and Stephan Moccio (The Weeknd, Miley Cyrus, John Legend) along with gospel great Kirk Franklin, and even the veteran artists could sense something truly special about Smith’s vocal ability.
Jordan’s a freak of nature when it comes to his voice, says Moccio. “I couldn’t mean this in a more sincere, loving and affectionate way. There really isn’t a bad note he can sing. Hence, the listening experience is euphoric. The choosing of takes is difficult because everything he gives us is great. It becomes a questions of how great it is: really great, über great or ridiculously great. I deeply appreciated wrapping my piano performance around his voice.”
Working with Jordan was a lot of fun, adds Franklin. “I got a call from David Foster asking me to join them in the studio, and I couldn’t say no. In the session, Jordan knew exactly what he wanted. He’s a singer’s singer. He instantly became friends with my group of vocalists and even went in the booth and sang on a few background takes.”
Learning to rely on God
While Smith’s childhood rooted him in the Christian faith, the 22-year-old says he’s just now learning what it means to really lean upon his relationship with God. The constant demands on his time and the tremendous platforms he’s been given are both leading him to depend upon his faith in new ways.
I’ve been on a really special journey with my faith as a result of the journey of the show and the album and everything afterward, says Smith. “I’ve been discovering my faith and my relationship with God in a new way. I’ve really learned the importance of it. God has used the show and performing on television every single week in front of millions of people to really teach me about trusting Him and about relinquishing control of my life to Him. There are a lot of things that are out of my control at this moment, and I am learning new things every day. I am literally navigating through uncharted territory, and it’s a huge thing for me to trust God—to lean on Him and lean on my faith through these moments.
I’ve been letting go of all my fears. That’s been one big thing that I’ve been learning is to let go of fear and the things that make me anxious and afraid, he says. “I’ve realized if I just come to God in prayer and petition, if I allow my faith to do what it’s supposed to do, which is carry me though these obstacles, I will be able to glide through this so much more easily. I will be right in the center of God’s will.”
More than anything else, Smith says he’s not just thankful for the opportunity to sing but to make an impact while doing so. The message of so many of Something Beautiful’s tracks is focused on acceptance, a positive identity and his faith in God. Given the response from fans, it seems those messages are finding a home with those who need it most.
I’ve had the very unique opportunity to touch so many people with my story and my music, and I can do that without even having to say Jesus’ name, even though I will gladly say it. I get to reach people and sing to people without even having to say that, and that’s so beautiful to hear the stories about that. I get messages and texts and Facebook posts every day that tell me how I’ve been able to encourage and inspire people. That’s what I want to do. I feel like my music and my connection to God is connecting people together and to God as well.
is a writer and editor living in Indianapolis.