Houston Chronicle

The Voice auditions hit Houston
An estimated 4,000 Houston contestants want to be The Voice

-Nick de la Torre-Houston Chronicle.

There was a refreshing lack of crazy at Reliant Center Wednesday, where thousands of singers lined up to audition for the second season of The Voice, NBC’s hit singing competition.

“This is a fantastic stage. It’s a fantastic opportunity. It doesn’t seem like there’s any reason not to do it,” says Wendy Taylor, who made it to the Hollywood rounds on season 10 of Idol and released an EP earlier this year. “I think that I’ve learned that how good you are, what you look like, how old you are, you never know what the verdict is going to be. I just come to enjoy the experience.”

No furry costumes. No funny hats. No silly props. Only a lone conehead in a cape hovered around the waiting area (but never made it into the line of potential superstars).
“Because there are no costumes or gimmicks or madness — there’s not really any bad auditions — the talent that we get in here is much better,” says Michelle McNulty, casting director for the show. “Not every singer is amazing that walks in the door. But we haven’t had a lot of that goofy ridiculousness, which is really nice.” Yes, that’s a jab at American Idol (which returns to Reliant Center Aug. 26 for its own auditions). The Voice, which premiered earlier this year to solid ratings and good buzz, has emerged as a friendly antidote to Idol’s snark, sap and cheese. The show actively seeks out unconventional vocal talent and doesn’t shy away from established singers. (Season 1 winner Javier Colon was previously signed to Capitol Records and released two albums.)

“This is a fantastic stage. It’s a fantastic opportunity. It doesn’t seem like there’s any reason not to do it,” says Wendy Taylor, who made it to the Hollywood rounds on season 10 of Idol and released an EP earlier this year. “I think that I’ve learned that how good you are, what you look like, how old you are, you never know what the verdict is going to be. I just come to enjoy the experience.”

The unflinching Houston heat — triple digits at its highest — did little to faze the excitement inside Reliant Center. It was a mix of cowboy hats, sundresses, impromptu sing-offs and quick trips to a nearby Starbucks, which maintained a healthy line most of the afternoon.

Contestants ages 16 and older were asked to prepare at least two songs and urged to get to the “best part” of their performance quickly. There was little time for buildup or nuance. A downstairs line snaked through the lobby and led up an escalator, where there was more waiting. Auditioners were checked in, sent to holding rooms and performed in front of show officials 10 at a time. (Celebrity mentors Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine are not present this early in the process.)
Producers encouraged singers to “have fun” and promised that no one would be “criticized or verbally beaten up.” Indeed, things ran smoothly for most of the afternoon, save for long waits to actually get inside a room and sing. Several singers were asked to return for a second audition later this week.
“They told me leave my phone on, so I guess it went good,” says Angela Lee Gwosdz, 26, from League City. She belted the Pretenders’ I’ll Stand by You and Reba McEntire’s Fancy.

“I’ve auditioned for American Idol four times. I watched (The Voice), and I was very impressed with the way that the show goes. The fact that they only judge you on your voice and not by everything else — that was really part of it.”
Those who make it past the regional preliminaries (which include Chicago, New York, Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando, San Francisco and Los Angeles) will travel to Los Angeles and perform in front of Aguilera, Green, Shelton and Levine during the televised “blind” auditions. The celebrity mentors have their backs to the stage and spin their chairs around if they’re interested in working with a singer based solely on their voice. Each celebrity builds a team of eight singers, and the field is continually narrowed via intense battle rounds (inside a boxing ring) and public voting.

“We just want people to be themselves and to know the type of artist they want to be. If you want to be a country singer, come in, sing some country music and get it done. If you want to be a pop singer, then sing your pop music,” McNulty says.
Texas proved fertile ground during the show’s inaugural season. Jeff Jenkins (Brazoria County), Curtis Grimes (Gilmer) and Tje Austin (Austin) also had strong showings.The Voice auditions hit Houston

Season 2 of The Voice premieres in February on NBC.

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