Rayshun LaMarr belted out just the first five words of “Don’t Stop Believin’” during his blind audition on “The Voice” before judge Adam Levine slammed his button. Fellow judge Alicia Keys followed suit and before LaMarr had even gotten to the chorus he had the attention of two of the biggest names in the music industry.
LaMarr, 33, originally hails from Chapel Hill, N.C., but now lives in Fort Washington, Md. He performed in Sound Connection, an agency band that performed at weddings and corporate functions, prior to his appearance on the show. He also battled lymphatic cancer, a struggle he openly shared with viewers during his audition where he had support from his partner Alex Holmes, as well as his mother, aunt, father and brother.
He decided to join Team Adam and is now in the top 10 of the reality competition series, which airs on Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC. LaMarr has become a fan favorite on the show with his performances reaching millions of views on YouTube. LaMarr took a break from his busy day on set of “The Voice” to discuss the typical day in the life of a contestant, his viral blind audition and what Levine is like behind the scenes.
WASHINGTON BLADE: How did your audition for “The Voice” come about?
RAYSHUN LaMARR: I auditioned for the show about four or five times before but I never made it past the executive producers. They were always like, “Great voice, but not what we’re looking for this season.” So, this particular year I was like the auditions are coming around again and I really want to go but I have a gig coming up. I gotta pay my rent. So I can’t afford to do that and miss this gig and be behind on my rent. So I didn’t go. Maybe two days later I did an open mic at my apartment and I recorded it and posted it on the Internet. Literally, two or three days later, I get a call from this guy saying, “Hey, this is one of the producers from ‘The Voice’ would you like to audition?” Now, I thought it was a joke. We were going back and forth for about a week and a half and I didn’t believe anything until I got my plane ticket. I was like of all times this happened to be the year that I didn’t go and it happened to be the year that they reached out to me.
BLADE: During your audition you revealed you battled cancer. Why was that important to share with the audience and the judges?
LaMARR: I went through the whole chemo and cancer thing. I wanted to let anybody know who had gone through what I went through, or anything similar, that everything was going to be OK. That song was very important to me. I just wanted to relay the message of this is my story, this is why I chose this song, this is the song that helped me through while I was in the hospital. That’s why I took the time to tell them why I chose that song and to tell them that story.
BLADE: Your blind audition blew the judges away particularly Adam Levine and Alicia Keys. What was it like being a regular person with two celebrities fighting over you?
LaMARR: It was super cool. I did not expect them to turn around as fast as they did. Granted, everyone wants all the judges to turn around. But I had no clue it would be so soon. I literally sang “Just a small town girl living in a lonely world,” and it was like bam. Adam turned around and then like five seconds later Alicia turned around. I’m like, “Wow. This is crazy.” Now I’m battling thoughts of I’m super excited but I still have to maintain the song. At that point my life actually just changed right then and there.
BLADE: Alicia was gunning pretty hard to get you on her team. Why did you pick Adam?
LaMARR: I am 100 percent a fan of Alicia Keys and all the judges. However, Adam said something that really stuck out to me. Maybe Adam just said it at the right time and that’s what I was looking for. Adam pointed out some of the flaws that were in my performance. He said, “I want to work with you and make you a world-class singer. I don’t just want to fill your head with all the good stuff. I want to make sure you are prepared and the best person you can be.” I wanted that. I didn’t want to go to a coach that was just going to be like, “You’re great. You can sing really well.” I wanted someone I could just grow with. I’m not saying I couldn’t grow with Alicia, but at that particular moment Adam spoke those particular words that made me want to go to him. I get that question every day. People were like, “I thought you were going to choose Alicia.” I thought I was too, honestly. I literally thought I was going to especially when she walked up on stage. There was a lot of that they didn’t show. It was really interesting. I stood up on stage for 10 minutes while they battled it out.
BLADE: What’s your daily schedule in preparation for the episodes?
LaMARR: First of all wardrobe, hair and makeup is always first. We wake up at the crack of dawn to go there. Yesterday, we had vocal lessons. Soon as you get your new song we go into a live rehearsal, which is filmed. We practice the song the best that we can. After that we go to dry blocking, which is pretty much on the stage giving you stage directions on where you’re going to go. After dry blocking, you may have another meeting. It all depends on what team you’re on. After your other meeting you have to go to wardrobe and get out of all the stuff you got into. We may have another meeting at the end of the night. Today, we have an iTunes recording. After that, we come back home and we start our very early morning the next day. It’s really tough now. But I like it. It’s something that pushes me to keep going. If I’m sitting around idle, I’m like “What are we doing?” So this is pretty good for me.
BLADE: How much interaction do you get with your coach?
LaMARR: Now that we’re in the top 10, we get a lot of interaction. The other day we had the chance to go to one of Adam’s private studios where he recorded his first hit album. We had one-on-one time, we got to sing for each other. We probably get to see them and talk to them two or three times a week.
BLADE: What’s Adam like to work with?
LaMARR: Adam is the best. He’s super cool. The way you see him on TV, he’s like that. Although he may be portrayed as an a-hole sometimes, he’s not. He’s very honest and genuine. That’s another thing that I appreciate about him. He knows what he likes. He knows what he doesn’t like and he isn’t afraid to tell you. But it’s all in love because he wants the best for you. I’m like a sponge just soaking everything up when I’m around Adam. We call him Papa Adam. He’s one of those people when you walk into the room it’s like, “Hey, what’s up Adam?” and he’s like, “What’s up Ray? Let’s do this song.” You feel comfortable. It’s not everyday you get the chance to work with somebody you’re not afraid to sing around or think that because they’re on this other level that you are beneath him. He puts you on the same level as he is. He talks to you like a regular human being like he is.
BLADE: During knockouts you sang “Fallin,” one of Alicia Keys’ biggest hits, in front of her. Did that make your performance more nerve-wracking?
LaMARR: Absolutely. That particular week I had a breakdown. That was the first and only one that I’ve had since then. Number one, why would they give me an Alicia Keys song? It’s a female song and Alicia Keys is going to be sitting in front of me. She wrote, produced and sang the song. How do I do the song and not overdo the song, not under-do the song and still have respect and integrity for the song in front of the artist and the writer? That was challenging. I was scared up until I got up on stage.
BLADE: Former “The Voice” judge Christina Aguilera recently told Billboard she disliked filming the show because it’s “not about music” but “about making good TV moments.” What’s your experience been?
LaMARR: Well, I disagree. Yes, it’s a television show and yes, we do have to capture some moments. But 90 percent of the show is about music. I’ve never experienced anything else on the show. The only time that’s about creating television moments is during our interviews. But when it comes to the music part, it’s just great. It’s actually real. This is one of the most honest and real shows I’ve ever seen or worked on before. It’s mainly about the music but the story part comes in interviews, B-roll or when you have free time and they want to get into your story. But it’s definitely still about the music.
BLADE: “The Voice” is a popular show but the winners’ careers don’t take off like winners on “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent.” Why do you think that is?
LaMARR: Honestly, I have no clue. I know some of the winners are really, really good. I have noticed that some of the runners-up have been a little more successful than the winners. Not sure if that’s because winners are restricted by the contract handed out at the end of the show. If I am the winner, hopefully I’d be one of the winners that changed the game and changed that outlook on winners of “The Voice.” Even if I don’t win at this point, I’ve gotten further than I had expected to get. I am super OK with whatever happens. I’ve made so many connections. I have so many great friends that I’ve met here. It’s just the beginning for me. Whenever I do go home it’s the start of a new journey and I’m super excited about it. I’ve already gotten some gigs lined up. I’m like the happiest kid on the block.