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'The Voice': Meet week-two standouts James Irwin, Olivia Henken, Monika Leigh and Will Champlin

by jmaloni
Mon, Oct 7th 2013 02:35 pm
`The Voice`: James Irwin draws `I Want You` chair turns from Adam Levine, CeeLo Green, Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton. (NBC photo by Trae Patton)
"The Voice": James Irwin draws "I Want You" chair turns from Adam Levine, CeeLo Green, Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton. (NBC photo by Trae Patton)

Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni

If there was a theme for "The Voice" in week two of the blind auditions, it was second chances.

For James Irwin, season five is an opportunity to prove he is better than his season four performance. Olivia Henken is using "The Voice" to show onlookers she's more than just a pretty face. Monika Leigh is returning to the stage more determined than ever after walking away from music for four years. Will Champlin, meanwhile, is hopeful audiences will overlook his famous father and give him a chance to succeed on his own musical merits.

James Irwin, 31, from St. Louis

In season four, James Irwin auditioned for "The Voice" on the heels of losing his newborn twins. Still reeling from this family tragedy, and looking for ways to make ends meet, he was admittedly distracted when singing for coaches Adam Levine, Shakira, Usher and Blake Shelton. As a result, James failed to garner any "I Want You" chair turns.

While other men would recoil in disappointment, James was bound and determined to make a go of it. He returned to "The Voice" with an unwavering desire to show he can sing.

Performing this season for Adam and Blake, as well as CeeLo Green and Christina Aguilera, James earned four chair turns.

"I don't think anyone has ever come back after not making it and had all four chairs turn around," Adam said. "I think that's the first time ever."

"I was so drawn in immediately," he said.

"From go, your very soft opening, I think you captivated all of us, and you intrigued us," Christina said. "You seem so versatile. It takes hard work and dedication. It sounds like you could almost do anything."

"I was moved" by James' "great rendition," CeeLo said.

"Whatever you did in that span of time from last time that you auditioned till now is great," Blake said. "I don't know if you did something in here (head), or in here (heart), or here (throat), whatever it is, you're ready for this thing now. You're ready to win this thing now."

"I really just kind of, you know, focused more," James said by phone. "I didn't really do any, like, vocal training or anything too much different than what I already do or have done in the past, which isn't much. I just tried to really make sure that when I went up there this time I just, like, gave it my all.

"I really, you know, just made sure that I didn't hold back and made sure I sang with a lot of emotion and I just, I tried to just sing in a way that I was like singing through those chairs that I just kind of like, you know, let them know how much I wanted it and like how, you know, how badly I was trying to get those chairs to turn around. And just, you know, trying to translate that emotion with my voice."

On stage, a humbled (and excited) James listened as each coach made a case for his services. In the end, he selected Adam.

Though James has already redeemed himself professionally - reaching a music pinnacle few see - he isn't ready to stop working at his craft. It's for that reason he teamed with the Maroon 5 singer.

"I was attracted to Adam's team just because, I mean, all of the other coaches they all, you know, said very nice things and were very complimenting, (but) I just felt like Adam was the one who was the most honest. You know, he said it wasn't ... it could have been a better performance, and I felt the same way.

"And I wanted to be with a coach that would really, you know, make me a better artist, make me a better singer and not just, you know, be like, 'Hey you were awesome. Come be on my team.' I wanted someone to keep it real, like, 'Hey man, it was a good performance. But I can make you better.' That's what I wanted to do; I wanted to be a better artist, a better singer, a better performer. That's what I always strive for. That's why I chose Adam."

Follow James Irwin on Twitter @jameskirwinstl.

Olivia Henken, 25, from Louisville

To make it in the music business, one has to have vocal chops and marketability.

But for country singer Olivia Henken, the latter was, unfortunately, starting to cloud the former. So, she entered "The Voice" to make a name for herself as a singer, hopeful audiences will look past her looks and listen to her vocals.

On stage at the blind auditions, singing Carrie Underwood's "Two Black Cadillacs," Olivia was able to make a connection with Christina Aguilera, a singer who, despite her good looks, has unquestionably convinced audiences of her vocal prowess.

"Olivia, you have to be on my team," Christina said. "I was struck by your voice. Something in it just totally connected with me. I just felt the power."

CeeLo, too, was impressed with Olivia and encouraged her to perform different types of songs on "The Voice."

Olivia said her chosen coach, Christina, has helped reinforce what she's been working on for eight years, and that is proving she's not just another blonde country singer.

"I ... mentioned Guns N' Roses were an influence of mine and I've actually - I have a band here in my hometown. One of my bass players is actually a rock guy and my guitar player is a blues guy. So they've actually brought out, like, very different sides in me, and I think my performance - you know, the stage presence that I've learned over the years performing here at home - that it sets me apart," Olivia said by phone. "And Christina, obviously, is an amazing artist herself, and has told me numerous times throughout, you know, the journey so far that she wants to show America that there's more to me than, you know, a country artist. And I hope that with her help that I can get some (song) choices that, you know, don't necessarily just show my country side, that they can show that I can do rock, blues and some soul.

"And I just - I want to show America that there's more to me than just ... Carrie Underwood."

"I know I said last night on the show that there's a lot of blonde country singers out there, but I hope this show can help me show America that I have something different than them and, like, there's something that sets me apart. And I can't wait to hopefully show them, you know, what that is about me," she added.

Olivia has had the benefit of participating in myriad stage contests and competitions. Those events have taught her a thing or two about navigating her way through "The Voice."

"I mentioned that I've been in over 100 contests and obviously some of those didn't have the best of outcomes. And I think that losing, obviously, helps you in these kind of situations because going in, you know, you don't know if someone's going to turn for you, and you don't know if your talent's going to be validated," she said. "So I think throughout my time with the competitions and all the singing things that I've done in my life, like you just realize that you can't please everybody. And you just go out there and, as long as you do your best and, you know, show America who you are as a person, that's all I can do. All I can do is Olivia's best. So I feel like I did that on my blind audition. I told myself going out there, 'You've done this, you know, 1,000 times. Just go out there and show them that you deserve to be here.' And I hope that America - not only America thinks it, but I'm so glad that Christina and CeeLo saw that as well."

Follow Olivia Henken on Twitter @oliviahenken.

Monika Leigh, 28, from Boulder, Colo.

After fours years away from music, you'd think Monika Leigh would be a little out of practice. But if her blind audition is any indication, she's far from rusty.

"It is called 'The Voice,' and that's why I turned around, because it just seems really pure," Adam said following Monika's performance of "The Thrill Is Gone." "It's hard to sing that way, too. People over-sing; they don't have a soulfulness; they kind of get too caught up in how much they can do. But you do it in a subtle, amazing, beautiful way. I would consider you to be the centerpiece of my team."

"I love the way you sang so womanly," CeeLo said. "In the story in the song is that the thrill is gone. But you sounded so cool with that; very accepting and embracing that reality. That's what I appreciated about your voice."

"I figured out early on in your performance that all the elements of just being a technically good singer were there, and then I just fell in love with your voice," Blake said. "It's the same thing that would make me want to turn my stereo up if you came on the radio. There's just something that you have - it's just star quality, is what it is."

Monika chose Blake, who has won the past three seasons of "The Voice." Now, just a short time into her comeback, she has, remarkably, gone from more or less performing for one living room's worth of people to performing in everyone's living room on TV's top-rated vocal competition.

"I stopped in music for about four years. And there was an event in my life that kind of made me want to pursue music again, and I just decided I'd try," Monika explained. "So I did it, like open mic gigs. I tried a lot of little things in Boulder, Colo., like, just I thought of doing open mic-type (things), and next thing I know, I was like, 'I'm going to audition for "The Voice." '

"So, yes, this - 'The Voice' - was the big, the big (kahuna). That was the big thing, but trying to get into that, I just did local gigs and open mic gigs in Boulder.

But "the doors just kept opening, and I just kept walking through it," she continued. "You know, it starts out with emails saying 'Do you want to audition for "The Voice?" ' That kind of stuff, and then another little door will open, and then the next thing you know, I'm flying out to California to try and audition. And, you know, these little doors just kept opening up for me, and I just kept going through it. And I think that that's the momentum that I'm going to keep up throughout the whole show for the whole season and after that, as well."

Follow Monika Leigh on Twitter @monikaleigh1.

Will Champlin, 30, from Los Angeles

Will Champlin's father, Bill, was a member of Chicago. ... As in, the American band that sold more than 100 million albums. Bill is a singer and multi-instrumentalist who has toured the world, performing in the largest venues in front of the biggest audiences.

Talk about a musical pedigree.

But that was Bill, and Will is looking to make a name of his own.

Auditioning for "The Voice" coaches, Will proved he is a unique and talented singer in his own right.

Following his rendition of Gavin DeGraw's "Not Over You," Adam told Will, "You have a really incredible voice, bro. Like really good. Really good. I can't think of one thing that wasn't spectacular about that performance. That was incredible."

"I think you're a real talented guy," he added.

"I tell you what, that was just some powerful singing with a lot of passion, and great pocket; great pitch," Blake said.

"I think you and I could win this thing together," he added. "No question about it."

Following such high praise, Will opted to go with Adam.

"Well it was a tough choice," he said by phone. "I originally said I was - I had on my mind that I was going to go with CeeLo, because I thought that he would be able to relate to my soulful, R&B kind of roots that I came up on. And, but instinct just kind of took over, and I knew that I had to be mentored by somebody that did - that just kind of knew the market I was going for. And I just thought that ... on an instinctive level that Adam was the coach for me.

"So Adam really got it and explained to me with the right commentary that he was the guy for me."

As Will sets out to make his mark, he might have a little help from last season's voting audience. Following his audition, Adam compared Will's style to super-popular finalist Michelle Chamuel.

"I was honored to hear that," Will said. "She's absolutely a great artist in my mind, and I would love if America thought that as well. So I really think that was a great - I was honored by that comment."

Follow Will Champlin on Twitter @willchamplin.

"The Voice" airs Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC. Learn more about the show at http://www.nbc.com/the-voice/.

>>Follow Joshua Maloni on Twitter @joshuamaloni.

Click here to find more profiles of your favorite season five competitors

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