Saturday, June 28, 2014

Connecting with The Voice's Josh Kaufman

Cake from local celebration of Josh's win
When my editor asked if I would be interested in writing an article for Florida Weekly about Josh Kaufman, this year's winner of "The Voice," I of course said yes.  (Really, when do I ever decline???)  The connection to Charlotte County is a bit tenuous -- he was born in Sarasota and his father lives in North Port -- but the community got behind him as people here do, so a story it would be.

My first call was to my friend Susan Fraley, an avid fan of "The Voice."  Having literally watched about three minutes of the show when I was channel surfing, I needed a primer before I even thought about talking to Josh's father--or Josh--about the competition.  Then I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching performances from the show.  I realized that the three minutes of "The Voice" that I did watch were a performance in the finale by Josh of "Signed, Sealed and Delivered."  (How weird is that?)  And I realized that we were talking some real talent here. 

The Kaufman entourage (sans Josh)
When I spoke with Mark Kaufman, Josh's father, I was struck by the closeness of their family.  Mark and his wife Doris had made several trips out to LA to see live tapings of "The Voice," with a stop in Indianapolis each time to pick up Josh's wife and his three young kids.  There was no way she could negotiate airports and rental cars with the kids--and all the stuff that comes with them--by herself. 

I was also struck by how hard it must have been for Josh and his wife to be separated while he was on the show.  And so I appreciated all the more Josh's willingness to talk with me a few days before he headed out on The Voice Tour.  He was going to be on the road for about six weeks, with plans to see his family only once.  

Josh and family outside
The Voice soundstage
I spent a good 30 minutes on the phone with him, talking about the show and his background and his signature fedora. (The fedora was chosen with the help of a salesclerk in hopes of distinguishing himself from the others.  As he said, "I don't have much fashion sense.  I'm a Mr. Mom who barely has time to pull on a pair of jeans and a teeshirt.")  As we talked, I could hear his kids in the background, and he excused himself once to head off in search of a bandaid for one of the kids' booboos.  He strikes me as a nice guy who has finally gotten his break and is hoping to make the most of it.   I wish him the best.

Here's the article I filed with Florida Weekly:

Josh at the finale -- from The Voice website
Connecting with The Voice’s Josh Kaufman

You have probably heard the expression “six degrees of separation.” The concept is that everyone on the planet is connected through six or fewer relationships. Whether or not you buy into this theory, such a connection surely exists between Charlotte County residents and Josh Kaufman, the latest winner of the reality TV show “The Voice.”   

Josh’s father is Mark Kaufman, a local businessman who owns and operates Mark Kaufman Roofing in North Port. As Josh progressed through “The Voice” competition, their relationship--and the resultant connection with our community--became increasingly known. By the time the finale aired, viewing parties had popped up across Charlotte County to root for Josh, who had become one of our own. 

One more try

Josh playing at the 
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Fans of “The Voice” are familiar with Josh’s story, which is similar to that of many aspiring musicians. Despite his talent and passion, Josh could not support himself and his family working exclusively as a musician. Before his journey on “The Voice” began, Josh was working in his home town of Indianapolis as a tutor while performing gigs day and night at places like the Potbelly Sandwich Shop. 

When Josh learned that “The Voice” was holding auditions in nearby St. Louis, he decided to give it a shot. At 38 years old, he realized this might be his last chance to fulfill his dream. His choice of song was the aptly named “One More Try” by George Michael. After making the initial cut and surviving a callback, he was selected as one of 120 singers from across the country who went on to Los Angeles.

Luck of the draw

For the viewing audience, “The Voice” begins with the blind auditions. Each “coach” builds a team of 12 singers from the pool of contestants. This season’s coaches were Adam Levine, Shakira, Blake 
Shelton and Usher.

 When a contestant begins his audition, the coaches’ chairs are turned away from the stage. If he is still looking at the back of all four chairs when he sings the last note, he goes home. If, however, a coach likes what he hears and wants the singer on his team, he swivels his chair. If more than one coach “turns his chair,” the contestant chooses whom he wants as his mentor.

Once 48 singers have been selected, the teams are full and the auditions are over. A contestant who hasn’t performed yet might have the best voice of all, but she goes home unheard. The contestants are not told how the week-long audition schedule is determined. They know, however, that those who perform early on have an advantage. Josh’s audition was slated for Day 2. 

Turning their chairs

It’s no surprise that Josh found the process nerve wracking. “It was my first time on the stage, “ Josh said. “There’s a large audience, and the coaches have their backs to you. I felt like every moment was happening individually, like in slow motion. When I finished, though, it had become a blur.”  

Adam Levine was the first coach to “turn his chair,” indicating that he wanted Josh on his team.  “It was a huge relief,” Josh said, “to know that I would be moving on.” Before the song was over, all four coaches had turned to face him. Josh chose “Team Adam” because he felt that Levine/Maroon 5’s crossover work in genres from soul to pop suited his own musical style best. 

From Team Adam to Team Usher

The concept behind “The Voice” is that the celebrity coaches work with their team members to advance their skill and style. But how much interaction actually occurs? “In the early battle rounds,” Josh said, “the coaches decide which singers will compete against one another and what song will be sung without input from the contestants. What you saw on TV was pretty much the full amount of interaction I had with Adam [Levine.]”   

Usher and Josh at the finale -- from The Voice website
In one battle round, Josh was pitted against Delvin Choice in a performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” With evident difficulty, Mr. Levine named Mr. Choice as winner of the round. Moments later, Usher exercised his right to make Josh part of his team by dramatically slamming a button on his chair. Without Usher’s “steal,” that would have been the end of the line for 
 Josh’s dream.

Josh believes that Team Usher was “the right place” for him. As the size of Team Usher shrank, Josh’s interaction with his coach grew. “Usher is quiet,” Josh said, “but serious and focused. His approach made sense to me.” It was an approach that made sense to the viewing public as well, as the audience ultimately chose Josh as the winner. 

Doris and Mark Kaufman
Support of family and Charlotte County friends

Mark and Doris Kaufman were there for Josh throughout the process, traveling to Los Angeles on multiple occasions to watch him perform. They would stop in Indianapolis on the way to pick up Josh’s wife and their three young children.   

The Kaufmans were in the house the night Josh won. Mark says that it was an unreal experience. “We were onstage with confetti streaming all around us.  You can see me on TV hugging Usher and Shakira. It all happened so fast.” 

Charlotte County residents were celebrating Josh’s victory as well. Perhaps the largest viewing party was organized by Marie LeBrosse. “If it were my son performing,” she said, “I’d want to know that my community was supporting him.” 

Ms. LeBrosse also knew about a second connection between Charlotte County and “The Voice.” Her good friend Elsie Yurchuk is a resident of Port Charlotte. Ms. Yurchuk’s son is co-executive producer of the show. Consequently, the viewing parties actually supported the endeavors of two different Charlotte County offspring.

Hold onto your dream

To Mark Kaufman, Josh’s story has a fairy tale quality. “It’s like he’s Cinderella,” he said. “One day he’s doing the musical equivalent of mopping floors and the next he’s a national celebrity appearing on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Jimmy Fallon.” 

To Josh, his victory is a sign that people should hold onto their dreams. Ironically, Josh didn’t even watch “The Voice” before he decided to audition. But he knew an opportunity when he saw one, and he wasn’t afraid to go for it.    

Coming up next

The next installment of Josh’s dream will begin on June 21 when The Voice Tour hits the road.  The tour will appear in several Florida cities and includes a stop in Tampa on June 25. 

After the tour wraps, Josh will be in the studio working on his first album. The plan is for the album to be signed, sealed and delivered to stores well in advance of the holiday shopping season.


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