Austin Ellis is no stranger to hard work. A graduate of the Recording Industry Program at Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in songwriting and music business, the young Latin-American musician has already devoted countless hours to his craft, performing on stages all over the U.S. and abroad. Still, on March 10, Ellis couldn't quite believe where his perseverance had landed him — on Adam Levine's team for Season 6 of The Voice.
"I wanted verification," laughed Ellis about seeing Levine swivel in response to his rendition of "Drift Away."
"I was making sure that I wasn't, you know, hallucinating, essentially. So I had to double-check, and once I double-checked, it was just kind of this feeling of triumph and sort of relief and elation."
The moment was made even more memorable by Ellis' sentimental song choice. "I was just really excited and proud and blessed, because some of the reason behind the emotion that I was putting into that song had to do with my grandfather, so I felt like I did him proud," he explained.
For a mellow singer like Ellis — think the super-smooth sound of John Legend paired with the singer-songwriter strumming of Jack Johnson — he couldn't have hoped for more than landing a spot on the team of Adam Levine.
"He's very laid-back," Ellis said of his coach. "He's got a nice wit and sense of humor, and he's also very professional. Clearly, he's very passionate about music and what he does and also what he's doing as a coach."
Ellis' admiration for Levine as a person spills over into his respect for Levine as an artist, as well. "I will be picking up the insight that I gain from being around him and working with him and applying it in my own career and my approach to business, because this industry is very demanding and very volatile and it can be high pressure, so being able to keep an even keel and still laugh and stay down to earth amid the firestorm and madness is probably critical to long-term success."
Levine isn't the only musician Ellis is pumped about collaborating with. His mentor on Levine's team is soul/funk/pop fusion singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc — and Ellis is "a big fan."
"He's more like a quiet storm kind of person, where the passion in what he's doing is in his actions and not necessarily in his words always," Ellis elaborated about his mentor. "But the words that he does choose are just so articulate and so right on point and so positive and true that you're just like, 'Man, you're kind of speaking proverbs. You don't speak a lot, but when you do, it's like a quote from Gandhi.'"
Of course, even though the contestants log long hours to compete on The Voice, it isn't all work for Ellis and his peers. "If you want to paint a funny picture, picture a hotel room that's got a PS3, a full refrigerator and a poker table," Ellis described his room, a hub of social activity.
And having pals to play video games with wasn't the only benefit of the steady ebb and flow of people in and out of his room. "The jam sessions that would ensue once you got a group of people on the same frequency were just, like, incredible, because the talent level was so high," he mused.
Naturally, the friends that were hanging out in his room one week could be the contestants he'll be squaring off against in another. Such is the name of the game. Ellis isn't sweating it, though — on the contrary, he's actually pretty stoked about it.
"You know, it's just such a great opportunity to showcase what I'm able to do and be able to share with a fellow contestant and friend whom I respect musically," he said of heading into the battle rounds against Josh Kaufman.
When it comes to sizing up the rest of the immensely talented competition, Ellis is keeping an eye on Blake Shelton team member Sisaundra Lewis. "To see her in her energy was like... witnessing something," Ellis said of the first time he saw Lewis on YouTube. "So I think she's got a long way to go in the competition, and I'll be eager to see if maybe I meet her on that stage one day."
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