Jordan Smith is an unlikely success story. After failing in his first attempt to get on the The Voice, NBC's singing competition, the 22-year-old Kentucky native tried a second time and went on to win Season 9 after catching the judge's attention with his searing rendition of Sia's Chandelier.
Since then, Mr. Smith has become the biggest selling Voice contestant in the show's five-year history. His debut album, Something Beautiful, came out last March, soaring to No. 1 on the iTunes and Amazon album charts, with a reported 1.2 million tracks sold to date. His following is so huge that one of his Voice performance recordings, of the Queen song Somebody to Love, bumped Adele's platinum-selling Hello off the iTunes list.
Mr. Smith next airs his powerful falsetto on a new holiday album, 'Tis the Season, and a tour that includes a stop in Toronto as part of the We Day celebrations. Performing as part of the celebrity lineup assembled for the event, Mr. Smith is also a We Day ambassador. He says he is committed to sharing his story of personal and professional triumph, and with that goal in mind spoke with The Globe and Mail in an interview touching on fame, failure and the power of faith to see a person through adversity.
You had a breakthrough 2015, winning Season 9 of The Voice and emerging as the hit show's fastest selling artist to date. This year you have followed up with a debut album, TV appearances, a June wedding and a holiday disc, your first. What drives you?
What an incredible year it has been. I'm so grateful for all the amazing opportunities that I've had so far and I know that the best is yet to come. I am driven by many things. Like most, I am dedicated to my new family, and knowing that I must provide for them pushes me to be better and work harder with each new milestone. I am also inspired and encouraged by the countless stories I get to hear of how my music influences others. The state of our hurting world is one of the greatest motivators in my life. I can see that people need to feel loved and accepted, and knowing that music can help bring us together makes it worth all the hard work.
Success hasn't come easily. You actually tried out for The Voice in 2014 and failed, moving on to study music business at a U.S. college while continuing to sing in your church choir. If you ever felt like giving up, what made you stay the course?
Like many who have experienced any kind of personal success, I definitely experienced times when I felt like giving up. Growing up, my parents taught me that the path with least resistance is most often also the path with the least reward. Knowing that music was my passion, I was determined to find a way to build my talent into a career, and I believed strongly that The Voice was my way. That strong belief kept me pushing toward my goal.
You have spoken publicly about battling fear and disappointment. How will you translate what you went through to a We Day audience of kids who might be experiencing the same thing?
We all deal with fear. Sometimes our disappointments can cause us to feel afraid of trying again because it might result in a person failing. I have experienced feelings of doubt and fear many times in my life and I do my best to use that experience to encourage others. My story with The Voice proves that overcoming disappointment is possible. But I also want my positive attitude as a person to be an example. I want to demonstrate to others what is possible when you work toward a goal for the right reason. If I can be an example to just one person, I have succeeded.
When growing up, who was your role model and why?
One of my greatest influences in my life was my grandfather. He was the leader of our family and he taught me many lessons. Just by watching how he lived and treated others, I learned the importance of putting the needs of others before your own desires. He was the hardest worker I've ever known. Hard work is a value he instilled in his children and grandchildren. He also battled Parkinson's disease for many years, and seeing his positivity and strength during the toughest times taught me the importance of outlook and perspective in life. He was a great man.
Your Christian faith is a powerful presence in your life and music. You might be the first Voice winner to top the Hot Christian Songs chart. When you speak of salvation, what do you mean?
My faith is an integral part of who I am, and I was very fortunate to be able to express such an important part of my life during my time on The Voice. During difficult times, I have allowed my faith to carry me forward. I do my best to rely on my belief in God and make it my strength. I want to share my faith with others. My life has been changed because of my faith in so many ways, and it's because I have relinquished control. There are lots of factors in our world that are completely out of our control and understanding that alleviates so much stress about what tomorrow could bring. Instead of worrying overmuch, I allow God to be in control of those things I cannot control, and do my best to take care of the things I can take care of.
We know quite about you but little about the people who raised you. Can you tell us about your family and your small-town community? What values learned there are you now sharing with the world?
I have been very blessed when it comes to family. I have a huge family and every member is extremely supportive of, not only my dreams, but each other, too. I grew up in the small town of Harlan, Ky. It's tucked away in the Appalachian mountains and the culture there is kind and familial. Everyone knows each other and everyone takes care of each other. It was there that I learned how proud I should be of who I am and where I come from. And I learned many lessons, like the power of a kind word and that doing good is good business. My parents and my brothers mean the world to me, along with my extended family and friends who are still back in Harlan. I am who I am because of those mountains. I love it there.
For your new holiday album, 'Tis the Season, you teamed up again with Canada's David Foster who co-produced your debut release, Something Beautiful. How would you describe your relationship?
Not only would I call David Foster a mentor, but I consider him a friend. Working with him has been a tremendous learning experience and it has also been extremely fun. He is beyond talented and he has worked with some of the most talented artists ever. During my time in the studio with him I realized that he was pushing me to become a better singer and a smarter musician. I hope to continue working with him in the future and making more great music together.
You are touring this fall with Amy Grant and others. How do you prepare for and also handle life on the road? You have spoken often about protecting your voice, so how does your routine change when travelling?
When you're on tour the most important thing you have to focus on is preserving your health and voice. Small things like taking vitamins and washing your hands often can help a great deal. To make sure your voice is in the best shape possible, it's important to do thorough routine vocal warmups and exercises that keep the voice active and strong. It's also very important to get lots of rest and use proper singing technique. There are lots of factors to think about when touring, but I always have a great time. I'm looking forward to sharing my new Christmas album with the world and performing some of my favorite songs of all time with these other amazing artists.
Do you still watch The Voice, and if so what do you feel when watching the new crop of hopefuls singing their hearts out, dreaming as you once did, of recognition?
I am so proud to have been a part of The Voice and each time I watch a new episode I get butterflies in my stomach. I miss the experience of being on the show every week. The people are amazing. The set is beautiful. And the entire show has such a positive, friendly atmosphere. When I watch the new contestants I can only think about what they must be feeling. I also feel happy and excited for them because I know just how rewarding the experience can be. The most important part is to have fun and enjoy every moment. Just being there is a dream come true.