Jordan Smith was the frontrunner of The Voice Season 9 from the beginning, but now, roughly a week after his landslide victory, he admits that he didn’t always think he had it in the bag. He actually auditioned for the show once before and was rejected, and even once he made it onto The Voice, he still had serious doubts about whether he was a real “artist” – and he was shocked by the accolades he received. “I was like, ‘Wow, people see something in me that honestly I didn’t think was there.’ I thought maybe I had fooled everyone!” he tells Yahoo Music’s Reality Rocks. “It took a lot of convincing for me to finally start seeing myself as a performer and artist.”
As Smith lets his victory sink in, he discusses his turning point of Season 9, the kind of album he wants to make… and yes, the continuing controversy over whether the show’s affiliated label, Republic Records, will do right by him.
YAHOO MUSIC: So you’ve had a little time now to process the fact that you’ve won The Voice. How are you feeling?
JORDAN SMITH: I’m still in the middle of that processing phase – just kind of letting it settle in, realizing that my experience on the show has come to an end and just how impactful it was. It meant so much to me to even be on the show at all, but to be the winner means a lot. It’s a dream I’ve had for such a long time and looked forward to for so long. Now I have to find a new dream, something else to look forward to and work on.
I know you’ve been a fan of The Voice since Season 1. Were you scouted for the show, or did you just line up at an open call audition?
I went to an open call in Nashville in February 2014. I got a callback, but then I didn’t hear anything. I figured it must not have been the right time; maybe it wasn’t meant to be. And then a year later, I heard that auditions were coming near me again and I considered it, but then I got a call from a scout who had seen a video of mine online. He wasn’t aware that I had auditioned before, but he wanted me to come in and audition in Atlanta. And this time, it all worked out. It was a really tough lesson for me at the time [when I didn’t make it], but it was a really important lesson about holding on and not giving up on something that you want to do.
Once you were on the show, you were a frontrunner from the start. Did you have a hunch that you were going to win?
I’ll tell you the truth. I’ve always considered myself a singer, but never an artist or a performer – until now. So in the beginning, I thought I had absolutely zero chance of even making it onto the show! I know that what they’re looking for is someone who’s seasoned and someone that has the capability of being a real performer, and at the time I didn’t see that in myself. But then once I saw my Blind Audition and I got the reaction from everyone, I was just so shocked. I was like, “Wow, people see something in me that honestly I didn’t think was there.” I thought maybe I had fooled everyone! It took a lot of convincing for me to finally start seeing myself as a performer and artist. In the beginning, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
So what was the turning point, when you did start to see yourself as a real artist?
When I sang “Halo” in the Live Playoffs, [coach] Adam [Levine] and I changed up the arrangement and decided to do something different with the song. That’s the first time I really saw that I had something to say as an artist. I saw myself as an artist from that point on. Then I tried to cultivate that good attitude and keep that momentum going for the rest of the show and build up my self-confidence as a performer.
So now that you feel like an artist, how will you take that feeling into the making of your debut album?
I think that’s one of the greatest things I learned on the show: who I am as an artist and what I’m built for and what I want out of my music. I want to keep doing music that inspires people; that’s such a part of what I did on the show, and I’m all about music that provokes emotions. I want to make music that people connect with. I think there are songs out there that when you hear them, they bring you back to a certain place. I want to make music like that. I think I’ve learned on the show just how powerful music can be when it comes from your heart and means something to you.
I have to ask, then – on part one of the finale, Pharrell Williams made some bold comments about being concerned that your record label might not understand you, or might try to change you. How did you feel about what he had to say?
I don’t think Pharrell’s comments that night were necessarily directed towards any certain label. I think mostly Pharrell just wanted to remind me in that moment, while he still had a chance to talk to me, that moving forward from here, what I’ve been doing has been successful. Being exactly who I am is what people have enjoyed. So I think he wanted to remind me that – because I think as artists it’s easy to get caught up in this business and want to sell records and move units, and so we do whatever we can to sell. He was saying that he thinks what I have is special and he wants me to hold on to that and not corrupt myself at all and try to fit into any certain mold. So I didn’t see that as being directed at anyone other than me, quite honestly.
But are you concerned about how you might fit into the pop marketplace?
I think that’s always a concern. We have to be smart and practical. I want to be creative and make the music I want to make, but I also want to be practical about that and understand exactly where I’m going to fit in. My plan will have to be tailored for artists like me, and I won’t be able to follow the path that just any artist could follow. So I’m excited to find my sound and figure out what that’s going to be, and then find the right way to market that and get it out there for people to buy it. But I’m not overly concerned with how it’s going to go. What I’ve done so far has been successful – in the sense that people have been inspired by it, and that is what I consider success, not how much it sells. So I’m going to keep being me and doing what I do, and if that doesn’t work, then I don’t know what else to do. I think the most important thing for me right now is to be the exact artist that I am and not try to be anything I’m not. And I do think I’m in a place that really supports that decision.
What artists out there have the sort of careers you’d like to emulate?
Obviously, I love Adele. I think she has proven a lot to the world with her music and her gift. I take inspiration from that. I really would love to meet her – but I don’t know if I’d be scared to meet her, after all of our little battles on the [iTunes] charts! I also love Sara Bareilles. I love her writing and I appreciate all that she does. She’s written a book now and she’s been writing for a musical, and she’s using all of her talents. I want to be that kind of artist as well; I don’t want to confine myself to just music. I think eventually I’ll grow out of that box and do other things, and hopefully inspire people in other ways.
So, you mentioned that now that you’ve won The Voice, you have to find a new dream to pursue. What will it be?
I’m still finding that. I never thought this was even possible, so now I have to think of all the other things I never thought would be possible. I would love to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl; I think that would be super-special. But right now, I think the most important thing is my album.