by Alexa Peters
It’s the silent rule of most music connoisseurs: you won’t find quality artists or music by following mainstream “star-making” shows like The Voice. After all, isn’t that how image-based, auto-tuned, drivel-quality pop music is perpetuated? That was what I always believed until I began following the story of former Bellingham resident Austin Jenckes, a contestant on the most recent season of The Voice.
Born in Duvall, WA, Jenckes started playing guitar and singing when he was just nine years old, joining his father, a singer-songwriter, on musical outings.
“Dad and I would go down to Fremont, WA and do open mics at the local cafes. He was the one who motivated and convinced me to get on stage,” Jenckes said.
After graduating from Cedarcrest High School, Jenckes moved to Bellingham to study at Western Washington University. During that time, Jencke’s was playing often, gigging at venues all over Bellingham.
“I played at the Green Frog weekly for two years,” Jenckes said, “and at other venues downtown as well as on Western’s campus.”
It was those local shows, he said, especially those at the Underground Coffee House, that kept him humble and true to himself throughout his experience on The Voice.
“Whenever I was on that huge stage with 15 million people watching, I would imagine that I was back in the Underground Coffeehouse. When I looked at it that way, I never had to be anything I wasn’t… it helped me be myself,” Jenckes said.
Authenticity was not necessarily a quality I associated with becoming a rock star in this day and age, but Jenckes serves as refreshing evidence to the contrary.
“Everyone I worked with on The Voice, like the hair and make-up crews, were very accommodating to the image I wanted and my musical coach, Blake Shelton, worked together to help keep me true to my musical vision. Every time we rehearsed he would say, ‘do what you want to do, it’s about you,’” Jenckes reflected.
But still, Jenckes said that being a contestant on The Voice seemed very surreal and was a major “culture shock” that all began after Jenckes moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
“I graduated in 2010 from WWU and spent all of 2011 playing music. I had no job, but my own shows at the Nectar or Tractor Tavern and bar gigs where I played covers and originals. I moved to Nashville for songwriting and had enough money to hang out for six months. I worked a bunch of odd jobs. A friend there asked if I’d be interested in auditioning for The Voice so I followed up on it.”
Jenckes explained that he snagged a scheduled audition and he made the first cut. A 6-month process followed, during which time Jenckes flew to L.A. four or five times to audition in front of the show’s executive producers, until the contenders were whittled down from 400 to 150.
“In June we were flown out with our families to film our back stories [and possibly land a TV audition.] There were 150 of us. There were four days of blind auditions and we didn’t know until the night before if we were auditioning the next day or not. And, we couldn’t leave the hotel for four days because they didn’t want people talking about who got in.”
Jenckes was the second to last person to make it among the 48 contestants that had a chance to audition on stage for judges Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Christina Aguilera. Jenckes said he was “lucky enough to get an audition [in front of the judges.] There were a lot of people who didn’t get one. They just spent two weeks in their hotels waiting.”
Singing “Simple Man” to the backs of the four red judges thrones, Jenckes got what he waited for. Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton accepted him first, the latter adding “holy crap balls America,” before Cee Lo finally asks Jenckes name. And that was it, he became one of the final 20 who made it on the show.
For the next 80 days Jenckes performed on the live TV show. Though he grew in popularity as he surpassed every cut, he remained down-to-earth throughout the whole process, working arduously to better his music.
“I like to tell stories, I like to make music that allows people to be vulnerable… I want people to feel something, evoke and emotion that people can connect with.”
Jenckes was eliminated as part of the top 10, but the experience was the win for him. “[I] met a ton of really awesome, super talented people… and I was lucky that being on the show wasn’t the end all be all for me. It wasn’t that if I didn’t win I would stop playing, but for some people that was the case….[But] most importantly, I would say that the experience taught me how important it is to be yourself. I learned that as an entertainer and performer, it’s really important to be happy and grateful for the life that you have. Be thankful that people love you for what you do.”
And of course, being on The Voice wasn’t bad for his fan-base either. “Yeah, it was definitely a good tool for exposure,” Jenckes chuckled, adding that many of the shows on The Voice’s West Coast Tour are sold out. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that before.”
Now that he can pack a venue, you’ll be sure he’s taking full advantage of it.
“The next 3-5 years, I want to be on the road…[plus] it’ll be two years in January that I moved to Nashville with my girlfriend and we just got engaged. [One of our] dreams is for me to make enough money so she can quit her job and come out on the road and tour manage for me.”
Yet, as much as Jenckes has wings he also has roots. “I love the Northwest—it’s a great place. I’d love to move back eventually… and I love Bellingham… people responded to my music well there. There were always a lot of gigs on campus, and many opportunities downtown, [and] great musicians to play with,” Jenckes said.
Lucky for us, in true homage-paying style, Jenckes will be back in town, playing a show at the WWU PAC Mainstage on Jan. 10.
For more information, see http://www.austinjenckes.us.