Fort Worth singer Michael Lee got married in late May, honeymooned with his wife for five days in Belize, came back for a day, then went down to Houston to do a blind audition for “The Voice,” NBC’s singing competition. And landed a slot on the show.
“I’ve been gone nearly the entire time we’ve been married,” Lee says with a laugh during a phone interview: He auditioned on a whim, but the whim worked out, and Lee became part of coach Blake Shelton’s team and has advanced to the live rounds that start next week. (On his “Voice” bio, Lee’s wife gets credit for helping him turn his life around after he’d gotten too deep into a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.)
“They’re completely different songs,” Lee says. “If you want a good, slow ballad, Chris is your guy. I was shaking in my boots when he was performing.”
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If you watch while Lee is performing “Whipping Post,” you can see Kroeze getting into Lee’s performance, where he managed to approach the bluesy tone of Gregg Allman’s original vocal. Lee, who says that Gregg’s late guitarist brother Duane was a huge influence, also plays guitar on the song — but it’s a singing competition, so the emphasis is on the vocals.
The performances were so close that Shelton had to flip a coin to decide who was going to advance. Lee won — and then Shelton used a “save” to keep Kroeze going on the show.
Lee, 30, says he’s been listening to the blues since he was a child. He remembers his parents taking him to a blues fest at Starplex Amphitheatre in Dallas, watching B.B. King there and Buddy Guy, who played his electric guitar with a long cord that allowed him to mingle with the audience while he was performing. The headliners? The Allman Brothers Band. Originally from Bedford, he also attended the Bedford Blues Festival with his parents, as well as other shows, when he was still a child.
But Lee says that his parents’ main influence, once he became interested in the blues and in Texas music, was in their not telling him to turn the music down or off. “While other kids my age were watching ‘Sesame Street’,” Lee says, “I was watching ‘Stevie Ray Vaughan Live at the El Mocambo.’ I watched that over and over.”
He began playing guitar at age 12, and began attending shows at Dallas’ Hole in the Wall and shows in Fort Worth, where he saw artists such as Lucky Peterson and Buddy Whittington. He cites Fort Worth’s Delbert McClinton as a big influence on his singing, and on a style that, like McClinton’s, blends blues and country and soul.
Earlier this season, during the “battle rounds,” Lee went up against another Fort Worth singer, Joey Green, on a version of “Thing Called Love,” the John Hiatt-written hit for Bonnie Raitt. As this season started, Lee, who gigs frequently in DFW, was still doing shows: He had five scheduled from mid-October to early November, including a Nov. 2 one at Lola’s Saloon in Fort Worth. And he did notice a change in the crowds.
“Oh, man, it was insane,” he says. “The sound check was three and a half hours before the show was supposed to start and it was already slammed packed. I was glad no one called the fire marshal.”
But Lee says he likes intimate shows, ones where the audience gets so into it that sometimes they’re even onstage dancing with the band. His local schedule is now clear, though, as he proceeds to the live rounds of “The Voice.”
Part of what attracted him to the show was the other North Texas singers who have appeared on the show, including Fort Worth’s Luke Wade and Burleson’s Reagan James, who appeared on the seventh season, Fort Worth’s Austin Allsup, who made it to the Top 10 in the fall 2016 season, and more.
One of the current “Voice” coaches, of course, is Burleson’s Kelly Clarkson, who has her own singing-competition background, having won the first season of “American Idol.” Lee says he hasn’t really talked with her about their shared North Texas background, because he spends the most time with Shelton, his coach.
But Shelton is a fan of Fort Worth — in June, he and Gwen Stefani buzzed through Fort Worth for a friend’s wedding, and he played a free pop-up concert at Billy Bob’s Texas in September to promote Smithworks American Made Vodka (“He’s performed here since he had a mullet,” Pam Minick, vice president of marketing for Billy Bob’s, told the Star-Telegram at the time). Lee has talked to Shelton about Billy Bob’s and the vodka launch.
NBC will air a special highlights episode of “The Voice” titled “The Road to Live Shows” at 8 p.m. Thursday, and it is likely to feature Lee’s performances. Live playoffs begin Monday. “The Voice” regularly airs at 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays on KXAS/Channel 5.