Music

Joshua Davis

To be real

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I’m sure this comes as a shock to no one, but I’ve been known to watch some reality television. And not just whatever passes as acceptable examples of the genre—I’ll even watch those shows that seem to exist solely so that grown women can earn a living by screaming and flinging drinks at one another.

Make no mistake, I’m not proud of myself.

Despite my wide-ranging reality TV tastes, I have not watched much of the perennially popular televised talent show known as The Voice. However, the one season I did happen to tune in for featured Michigan folk singer Joshua Davis.

Along with millions of other people, I watched as he hit the stage for his blind audition, his family backstage looking on. Just like the show’s four judges—Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Pharrell Williams, and Christina Aguilera—I listened as he began to sing “I Shall Be Released.” And then I gasped (by myself, in the privacy of my own home) as Levine and Shelton swung their chairs around, signaling their desire to coach Davis to Voice victory, before he’d made it to the end of the song’s first line.

As I said, I’m not an experienced Voice viewer. Maybe that happens all the time. But somehow I don’t think so.

Even though Davis’ talent was evident from that first line, he didn’t exactly fit the mold of your standard Voice contestant. For one thing, he was older. One of the components of the blind audition show is the shots of families backstage, by turns, anxious and elated as they watched their loved one perform. Most contestants bring their parents. Davis brought his wife and kids.

Another thing that made Davis different was his level of experience. He came to the show via the coaxing of producers who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and he arrived there with more than a decade of musical experience under his belt. He’d played and toured for years with a full band, Lansing-based Steppin’ In It, and had also enjoyed strong regional support as a solo artist.

Both his age and his accumulated wisdom gave him something that helped propel him into the top five and then eventually to a third-place finish: self-possession.

It takes more than just a great voice to command an audience, and after years spent trying to compete with friends and phones to capture the attention of capricious crowds in venues far from home, the eager studio audience of The Voice was no match for Davis’ well-honed skills as a performer. And, on a show that features vocalists singing everyone and anyone else’s songs but their own, Davis had enough confidence in himself and his songwriting to want to perform his own original material.

This was a decision that was met with neither enthusiasm nor approval by the production team of The Voice. They pushed back against Davis’ wish, and as only someone who has lived enough life to know that having something to prove and nothing to lose can often coexist, Davis pushed back harder. He couldn’t be on a show called The Voice and not use his: If he was going to win, he’d do it at least partly on the strength of his own songs. He even thought about leaving the show, but before he had to make that hard choice, the producers relented.

That season would be the first and last time any Voice competitor was permitted to perform their original material.

Davis didn’t win his season of The Voice—as mentioned, he turned in a perfectly respectable third-place finish—but the exposure he gained has only been beneficial to his continuing music career. By the time he appeared on my personal reality television radar, he’d gained a devoted regional fan base—so devoted, in fact, that they helped save him from Voice elimination at least once by getting out the vote for him—and that ardor has not waned in the slightest. Indeed, it has only grown deeper and spread farther geographically.

As before his brush with reality television, Davis continues to tour, playing venues and festivals of all sizes and kinds, but chances to see him at intimate spots like the Green Frog, where he’ll play an early (and all-ages) show at 7pm Sat., Dec. 2 are not as plentiful as they once were. And I’m guessing he might not be showing up on reality TV again anytime soon.

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Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

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5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

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