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While viewers of The Voice were busy clapping along to the folk duo Midas Whale during season four’s blind auditions, astute fans of American Idol may have recognized a familiar face in the group: season-three alum Jon Peter Lewis.
The 33-year old eighth-place finisher is making history of sorts as the first former Idol contestant from the top 10 to compete on both shows. Former Idol semifinalists Frenchie Davis and Jamar Rogers also appeared on the The Voice.
Lewis said he is happy to be on the NBC show and noted there are specific differences in the program’s overall vibe and mission from the iconic FOX show.
“What I love about The Voice is it’s a great place for artists. I was very impressed with how much time they spent with us before the audition and keep getting us ready. I also love that you don’t have to worry about being in front of somebody and having somebody ridicule you in front of the entire country,” he said. “There is nothing about The Voice that is insulting to the people on stage. It’s a nurturing environment for talent. And I think that’s nice. Nobody is going to be mean, and there is a nice repertoire among the coaches on stage. They are having a good time with each other.”
The Lincoln, Nebraska native formed Midas Whale with friend and collaborator Ryan Hayes, who penned the folk-opera “Deep Love,” and another pal, Garrett Sherwood. Both men plan to showcase in Los Angeles later this year. He met Hayes in Rexburg, Idaho at a time in his life when he considered leaving the music business altogether.
The singer had previously released two independent albums, Stories from Hollywood and Break the Silence, through Cockaroo Entertainment in conjunction with Adrenaline Music Group. He also hosted an internet show, American Nobody, and guest-blogged several Idol-related columns. But Lewis returned to Idaho with the idea of finishing school — until he got up at an open mic night and met Hayes, who had personal drama of his own after breaking up with a girlfriend. Hayes poured his misery into his folk opera, impressing the former Idol.
“We met in 2009, and later that year, he had the idea to write a folk-opera. My first impression was, ‘Good luck with that,’ because writing a whole piece is a monumental undertaking,” he said. Six months later, Hayes showed Lewis a full draft. “I was blown away,” said JPL.
While working on the show, the two often wrote together as a duo and were convinced by friends to try out for The Voice. Lewis, who Simon Cowell once famously said “looks like a pen salesman,” said he was at first “skeptical” to return to the reality-show arena, but changed his mind after some reflection.
“Having been there before, I knew what was in store for me. It was a high-pressure environment, and sometimes it’s easy in this type of environment to distort a musical experience,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “Music is so subjective. So when you are in competition, it’s so easy to say that I can do this many runs, so therefore one plus one plus one equals three, so I’m better than you. It’s not really about that. I was hesitant to walk into another environment that might be that. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what these types of competitions are phenomenal at doing is giving new acts exposure, and this duo that Ryan and I have done is absolutely new, and we are looking for some exposure, and there couldn’t be a better way for us to jumpstart a new project.”
It has been 10 years since the Rexburg, Idaho, resident graced the Idol stage, entertaining fans with Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” and “Jailhouse Rock” in a season that featured winner Fantasia Barrino and future Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson. Hudson even provided back-up vocals for Lewis on that summer’s Idol tour, as the singer rocked the house with a spirited version of Outkast’s “Hey, Ya.”
So how nervous was Lewis when, nearly 30 seconds into the duo’s performance of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” none of the coaches — Usher, Shakira, Adam Levine or Blake Shelton — had turned their chairs around?
“I was having minor panic attacks in the beginning of the song,” he confessed. “We made it through the entire first verse without anybody turning around. I started to feel flush in the face and kind of panicky and starting to dread the moment.”
But then, an unlikely chair turned: Usher’s. “I was preparing for anything, but I knew we had our moment coming, and it came,” Hayes said.
So why didn’t they go with Usher, or country guy Shelton, when it came time to choose? Hayes said that, in the end, Levine made more sense.
“Blake didn’t make a case for himself. His first question was, ‘What genre are you guys?’ and that didn’t make sense. Folk music has been around longer than country,” Hayes said. “Adam showed an elevated sense of understanding and awareness, and by listening to him, it seemed he had a plan for what he wanted to do with us. He’s a band guy and he’s a person that loves to do arrangements, he likes to get creative and do things like that. He’s also a charming guy and understanding and I felt like he had a path that we could walk down and take us further into the show.”
The choice to join Levine’s team is another historical moment for the show — up until this season, the Maroon 5 frontman had never had a duo on his team before.
“We’re making history,” cracked Hayes. “We’re the first duo Adam ever had, first American Idol finalist and also the first accordion worn on stage.”
Another first for Hayes, who said he doesn’t watch reality television and in fact kind of “despises” it: he was pleasantly surprised by the show’s warm vibe. Said Hayes: “The production team made it clear from day one that they weren’t going to tolerate any backbiting or any of that competitive, but negative behavior. From the beginning, there were people who were sent home because they had this terrible nature to quarrel. What you have now is a group of people who are serious about music. They are not exploiting some teenager who doesn’t know who they are yet — it’s about people engaged in what they know, what they are and already developed and jump into something bigger.”
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