Bay Minette native gets golden opportunity on ‘The Voice’

By John Underwood / john@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 10/22/18

Kirk Jay was understandably nervous when he stepped on stage for his blind audition for Season 15 of “The Voice,” which aired Monday, Oct. 8 on NBC (locally on WPMI Channel 15).

Understandable …

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Bay Minette native gets golden opportunity on ‘The Voice’

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Kirk Jay was understandably nervous when he stepped on stage for his blind audition for Season 15 of “The Voice,” which aired Monday, Oct. 8 on NBC (locally on WPMI Channel 15).

Understandable because he was singing in front of a nationally televised audience and in front of four of the biggest names in the music industry (who just happened to have their backs to him when the audition started).

But he was also nervous for another reason.

“Not many people knew it,” said the Bay Minette native who now resides in Montgomery, “but I had been very sick leading up the audition, so yeah, I was really nervous.”

What happened next went beyond the soulful country crooner’s wildest dreams.

Not only did he get all four chairs to turn, signaling that all four coaches wanted him for their team, what followed was an all-out battle of words between country superstar Blake Shelton and Kelly Clarkson, a crossover star who has had hits on both the pop and country charts.

“Everybody who comes in here who does country always thinks that there’s just one option,” said Clarkson. “Just think about it.”

Almost from the beginning, Shelton and Clarkson were paired off against each other in the battle to gain Jay’s favor, with Clarkson championed by fellow coach Jennifer Hudson and Shelton getting the unlikely support of coach Adam Levine.

“For some terrible reason Kirk, if you don’t come to my team, I would love it if you went to Blake’s team,” Levine said, revealing earlier that he thought Jay sounded like a cross between Shelton and former Voice coach Cee Lo Green (‘It was like Cee Lo and Blake made a country baby.’) “I’m not going to lie, as someone who thoroughly enjoys making Blake suffer all the time, for the first time maybe in my life, I want to see you on Blake’s team.”

Despite a lengthy plea from Clarkson, in the end it was Shelton that Jay chose as his coach.

“I just love Blake. I’m a huge fan,” Jay said in a phone interview on Monday. “He’s definitely a great guy and has been great to work with. He doesn’t just tell me what I want to hear. He tells me what I need to hear.”

Jay’s journey in music began at a young age, playing drums at church and singing in the choir starting at age 5. In 2014 he met a music manager and in 2015 he started doing open mics, traveling with his band “Kirk Jay and Kuntry Funk.”

His journey on “The Voice” began with an open casting call in Houston, surviving a second round of cuts before getting a chance to perform before the judges in a blind audition, which first aired on Monday, Oct. 8.

Understandably, his career has taken a huge leap forward since performing on the show.

“We were driving four or five hours doing open mics, not knowing if when we got there, we would be performing in front of two or 2,000,” he said. “Now, I’m at the point where people recognize me and want to have their picture taken with me. It’s been amazing.”

When asked by Clarkson what kind of record he wanted to make, Jay responded that he was “country until I die,” also revealing that the song he performed in the blind audition, the Rascal Flatts ballad “God Bless the Broken Road,” is the first country song he ever learned and the reason he wanted to be a country artist.

As an African-American, Jay joins a small but elite group of artists, from country legend Charlie Pride, to former Hootie and the Blowfish front-man Darious Rucker, and said he welcomed the opportunity to be a role-model to the next generation.

“It is definitely been awesome and I am humbled by the experience,” he said. “I appreciate my fans and all the fans of the show that have gotten me to this point.”

Jay has also gotten the chance to return home during his journey, attending a Baldwin County High School football game Friday night at Lyle Underwood Stadium in Bay Minette.

“It was great to be able to come back and hang out with old friends,” he said. “I got to visit with some of my old teachers and they invited me to perform with the band and hang out on the sideline. It was a great experience.”

Now it’s on to the battle rounds, which began airing on Monday, Oct. 15, in which Jay has been paired with fellow country artist Caeland Garner, who revealed during his blind audition that he is friends with Shelton protégé Red Marlow.

Shelton will be aided in the battle rounds by Australian country singer Keith Urban.

“He’s been great to work with, too,” Jay said. “He’s also given me some honest advice and so far it’s just been an unforgettable experience.”

Season 15 of The Voice began Sept. 24 and airs every Monday and Tuesday beginning at 7 p.m. CT on NBC (locally on WPMI Channel 15). The battle rounds continued Tuesday, Oct. 16 and will also air Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 22 and 23 before the knockout rounds begin Monday, Oct. 29.