When Knoxville, Tennessee, native Chris Blue finally got to his blind audition on season 12 of The Voice, Alicia Keys was the only coach who didn't have a completely full team. Had things been different, it's easy to imagine Blue eliciting the rare four-chair turnaround with his rendition of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' soulful 1965 hit "The Tracks of My Tears." But as it happened, Keys was thrilled to round out her team with the 26-year-old pop and R&B singer, who stunned viewers with a string of soul, funk, and gospel-inspired covers like Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" and Tamela Mann's "Take Me to the King" and took home the crown on Tuesday, May 23rd. Rolling Stone chatted with Blue following his victory and discussed his experience on the show, his Tennessee roots, and conquering his doubts.
You've had a few hours to let the news sink in. What does this win mean for you?
It means so much – so much more than I think people could ever imagine. I come from a family of talented and extremely gifted human beings. Makers, athletes, writers, but there's one thing that's kind of plagued us, and that's having a really hard time breaking through the glass ceiling. And so, being able to say that we've won The Voice is a testament to, I believe, that plague or that curse being broken. And to me it means a generation of change. It means a new start. It means so, so much.
When you say "we" it seems you mean more than simply yourself and your family. Your entire community at home in Knoxville has really stood behind you, even turning a bridge blue in your honor.
I love Knoxville to pieces. Those guys have been unreal! I'm so grateful to God for everyone there. Can't wait to get back to hug and kiss all of them.
How has Knoxville influenced your music?
I come from a family of music, gospel music. All gospel is, stripped down, is country music, in my opinion. Knoxville is a place where there's so much there and so many new and different sounds are coming in. I'm sure different artists or groups may catch my ear [in town]. And who knows, man, there may be a rock song on [my album].
You almost decided not to audition for the show. What happened?
I was in the car driving [to the audition] and these thoughts began to run through my mind. Thoughts of doubt and fear. They were saying things like, "What are you doing?" "Why are you going here?" "You're not gonna get through," "No one's gonna like you," just random thoughts of negativity and doubt and fear. Just really crushing myself. And it would take me back to the moment I was sitting in my bedroom and I would see [season 9 winner] Jordan Smith, who's one of the guys I looked up to as a contestant on The Voice and I see him singing and I would think "Wow! He's incredible, he's awesome! I can't do that, I'm not good enough to be on the show." So, instantly, I was stricken with fear. For two years, God told me to try out. And I would say "nope!" until finally I said, "Okay, I'll try."
On the season you covered everything from Percy Sledge and Stevie Wonder to Bruno Mars and Janet Jackson. How do you plan to situate yourself musically between throwback tunes and a more contemporary sound?
The greats have done it. All the greats have done it and found a way to bridge that gap and have a flair or feel of the old school but still be relevant. Bruno has done it. And it's working and it sounds really, really good. For me, it's the same; it's just a matter of finding the right song.
I've been thinking about what type of music or what sound [I want to make]. I know what type: And that's just music that inspires people. I want to inspire people to hope again. Hope in your broken marriage; hope in your failing grades; hope that you'll pass this exam this time; hope that the relationship you have with your parents can be restored and healed. That's what I want to do when people hear my songs – become inspired. Whether it be a dance song or a ballad, I want something that people will be inspired by and moved by.
Out of all of your performances on the show, does one stand out as a favorite?
[Tamela Mann's] "Take Me to The King" was pretty special. It was special in multiple ways. It was special because it was something personal to me and I felt like something shifted in the competition in that song. I can't really explain it, [but] something shifted in the atmosphere...Definitely, I felt more confident, but there was more to it. I believe something happened in the people.
What was the most valuable piece of advice you got from working with Alicia Keys on the show?
The most valuable lesson I learned is that I am a human being. Alicia pulled [my teammate and I] aside and said, "You guys are human beings. When you get on stage, do not try and do anything. Just be. Let it be, let it flow. Why? Because you're a human being, not a human doing."