Photo: Brian Armas / Lightfly Creative
The entire television-watching nation now knows what Barrett Baber desperately wanted to tell his Arkansas friends but couldn’t.
Not only had Baber tried out for “The Voice,” but his blind audition impressed all four judges of the televised reality show. All four turned their chairs and begged the Fayetteville resident and former Fayetteville High School teacher to join their team of promising but as of yet undiscovered vocal talents. Industry trackers indicate that more than 12 million viewers tuned in to watch the Sept. 21 season debut “The Voice,” which featured a clip of Baber singing “Angel Eyes” by The Jeff Healey Band and then follow his performance with the Hog Call at the urging of judge Blake Shelton, a well-documented college football fan.
Forced to select one of the four celebrity judges, Baber went with the judge closest to his own style, something he calls “country soul.” That means he opted for country star Shelton over pop stars Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani and Pharrell.
Baber live at Bikes, Blues & BBQ
Barrett Baber will perform Sept. 26 at Bikes, Blues & BBQ. His set takes place from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Main Stage at the Dickson Street beer garden. Baber will debut the official Bikes, Blues & BBQ theme song during his set. That concert is free.
“He’s a country super star. I couldn’t pass up that opportunity,” Baber said recently by phone from Fayetteville, where’s he’s lived for six years. The selection to one of the four teams means Baber will appear at least one more time on national television.
Baber has been no stranger to stages in this corner of town. He performed at fraternity houses, public parks, charity galas and more – any gig he could. The local gigs gave him practice and confidence in his abilities, he said.
“I’m thankful for every opportunity,” he said.
The opportunity on “The Voice,” meanwhile, came at an important career junction for Baber. Coming off his selection for a “Grammy Gig of a Lifetime” as an official preview concert for the 2014 Grammy ceremony, Baber talked to his wife about leaving his gig as debate and forensics coach at Fayetteville High School to focus on music for a year. In what Baber can only describe as a “near spiritual” coincidence, about the time they reached that conclusion was when he opened a show at George’s Majestic Lounge for vocalist Luke Wade, who appeared on Season 7 of “The Voice.”
Wade told him to try out for the show. Baber offered some resistance – reality shows weren’t his thing, he said.
But Wade was persistent to the point of sending a link of one of Baber’s YouTube videos to a casting director at “The Voice.” And Baber came around to the idea when he was told that unlike “American Idol” and their ilk, “The Voice” desires to work with contestants, unlike the opening few weeks of “Idol” when that show focuses on “embarrassment at the expense of the contestant,” Baber said.
Indeed, he spent several weeks preparing his version of the 1989 hit “Angel Eyes” with the house band of “The Voice.” Baber writes original music, but his hundreds of covers-only shows along the way taught him how to make cover tracks his own. Baber said he had influence of the unique version of the song that played during his audition.
“I knew that there was something in there that would make people say, ‘Wow,’” he said.
The judge’s collective response – and the number of new Twitter followers Baber received in the 24 hours after the show debuted – proved he was right.
And he further suspected his eventual coach would be one to respond. He guessed Shelton would know the southern rock ballad well, and “my hope was that he’d know what I was trying to do with the song,” Baber said. “That’s exactly what happened.”
Baber is back in Arkansas now, and he hosted a watch party at Grub’s Bar and Grille in downtown Fayetteville on Sept. 21. He cannot say how far he advanced in this year’s competition. He’s got to hold on to that secret for the time being, too, for better or for worse.
Now officially a member of Team Blake, Baber said he will host a public watch party each time he appears on the show. He owes the interaction to a local crowd that showed him support when he was unknown even to fellow Arkansans.
“It feels like a state-wide, community-wide celebration,” Baber said. “They’ve been following, and they’ve been watching me grow.”
So too will national audiences, thanks to “The Voice.”