This is part of the AJC Radio & TV Talk Blog written by Rodney Ho
Over the first 10 seasons, no Atlantan has won “The Voice.” We’ve had a few in the top 10 but nobody has even been in the final four.
This year, the area is represented by two singers out of 48 who made it past the Blind Auditions: Darby Walker and Aaron Gibson. (Last season, Georgia had five but none made it to the top 10. Two seasons ago, Marietta’s Zach Seabaugh came in sixth,.)
Unlike the past couple of seasons, an obvious favorite has not yet popped up.
The Battle Rounds begin tonight, though we don’t know who will perform when just yet.
Here are highlights from talks with each singer:
Current residence: Los Angeles since fourth grade
Grew up: Atlanta (“I come back every summer and Christmas. My family still lives there. I feel very much rooted back to home. Atlanta is home for me. That’s where all my friends are. I technically could have identified with L.A. But my roots are important to me. I consider myself a Georgian, an Atlantan.”)
You might have seen her as: Darby, a secondary character on Disney Channel’s”Girl Meets World”
First audition: “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King
Why she chose that song: “I really appreciate older music. I collect vinyl. It’s a very relevant song for me in my life. My mother gave up everything for me. She quit her job [as a teacher in Gwinnett County] and left her family to support me and my dream. We came to L.A. with no place to live. We lived out of our car for a couple of days. To have someone put that much faith in me and believe in me, that’s priceless. That’s what the song represents to me.”
Who turned: Miley Cyrus first, followed moments later by Alicia Keys and Blake Shelton
Who picked her: Miley
Darby’s hopes: “This is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I can remember wanting to do anything. That sounds weird… I’ve been taking voice lessons since I was six years old.”
Her idols growing up: Alicia, Miley and previous “Voice” judge Christina Aguilera. ‘They were my girls. That was the kind of stuff I was singing. The first time I learned ‘Beautiful’ was when I was six or seven years old. It’s crazy. And I grew up with Miley. I watched ‘Hannah Montana’ all the time. The first concert I went to was Hannah Montana. I was watching that and thinking, ‘That’s who I want to be.’ It’s unbelievable I get to work with her.”
Why she chose Miley over Alicia and Blake: “I went with my gut. I think at the end of the day working with Miley will be the best thing. We are very similar people. I’ve been in this industry eight years. It’s hard to be completely individual. It’s a business about being commercial and what will sell. Miley has been very brave. She’s very honest. She’s truly an individual. I feel like that’s where I need to be. I need to work with that. I made the perfect decision. I’m very very happy.”
Getting featured in the post-Olympics preview edition of “The Voice”: “That was crazy. It blew my mind… That was the most exciting moment in my life. In a split second, everything changed, completely changed. My social media blew up. I had a small fan base from ‘Girl Meets World.’ I love them. But this opened the doors to so many more people. People began checking out my YouTube covers. A woman contacted me from a military base. She said ‘Stand By Me’ is her favorite film. Her husband had passed away and she just felt so much hearing that blind audition. The reason I love what I do is I get to connect with people and be a story teller. I want to make you feel something.”
Her favorite previous “The Voice” contestant: Melanie Martinez, who finished in the top 8 season three. “She was 17 when she was on the show. I loved her voice and her style. She’s touring. If there’s anyone I feel has the most success, it’s her. She’s someone I look up to.”
Song sung for the Blind Audition: “Losing My Religion” R.E.M.
Why he chose that song: “R.E.M. is one of my biggest influences. I like this song a lot. It’s been a big part of my life. It appears in random parts of my life. It was good for me. I was pleased to be able to sing it. I’ve never been so nervous for 90 seconds.”
Who turned around: Miley, Alicia and Blake, same as Darby. (“The judges turned around when I expected. It’s a little melodic. It builds at the very end. It was the turning point where it transforms more or less from the original to more my own interpretation. If they were interested in me, I expected them to turn around then. It was an amazing experience. Talk about a weight lifted off your shoulders, for sure.”)
Adam Levine not turning around: “I’m a huge Adam Levine fan. Going into it, I probably would have thought we could have worked well together. Him not turning around was okay. Any one of the coaches would have been amazing. He did say some flattering things to me.”
Why he chose Miley: “There was 10 minutes of conversation America didn’t see. She fought for me hard, That means a lot of me. I’d be a no brainer for any of them. She just made the most resonant argument. I respect her ability to unapologetically be herself. She’s the definition of rock star to me. She does what she wants to do. I’m all about that.”
His performance: “I would say I’m more or less no nonsense sort of guy. I want people to sing along when I get to the mic. You have to read a room. If you’re in Atlanta, working people want songs they are familiar with. In Athens wants more originals. Athens is having another renaissance.”
Being previewed before the show: “I was shocked. One day, I was just minding my own business. Next minute, I have 50 text messages. It leaked without my knowledge. I’m just glad I wasn’t montaged. [Being “montaged” means you only get a minor clip of yourself shown, which usually means the chances that person will end up on the live shows is slim to none.]”
Being a military child: “It made it so I had to adapt and make friends in every new city. It affected me socially more positively than negatively moving every two years.”
Coming to Atlanta: “I came here for high school. I was about 15 years old. I ended up at Etowah High School. [As an aside, I asked him if he was around when Kellie Pickler showed up after a text-messaging contest. He was! You can read the story I wrote at the time here. He recalled a friend of his hooked up his phone to a computer so he could text non stop. In the end, that student Cole Arnold generated 120,000 out of 500,000 needed to win the contest. “I got to hug her at a meet and greet,” Gibson said. “She was very sweet.”]
College and beyond: He graduated Kennesaw State University (where he began singing), worked for awhile in Cincinnati brokering deals for truck drivers moving freight. (While at KSU, he also worked at Petland as a dancing dog outside enticing folks into the store: “It was the hottest summer of my life. I must have lost 10 pounds in sweat!”). After 18 months in Cincy, he came back to Atlanta and worked at CareerBuilder.com, handling account management. He was already playing music around town, building a small fan base. “To be honest, half of my local fan base came out of that company,” he said. But he hated working nine to five job, hated the traffic.
The turning point: On December 2015, he heard about auditions for “The Voice” and tried out in Memphis in January. “My parents were telling me not to go,” he said. “I went anyway.” He said he almost didn’t make it through the open call but the producer let him through after he sang two songs and deliberated awhile.
Here’s a little preview of the entire Team Miley team: