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Saturday, March 22, 2014
Summit County singer Beau Thomas takes the stage on NBC's 'The Voice'
Beau Thomas strode confidently onto the stage, looking down briefly, taking a breath. His eyes rose with the spotlights as his family cheered from nearby. Then his voice broke the silence, strong and soulful.
But instead of the typical open-mic night in Frisco, playing to a familiar crowd, the 27-year-old was being scrutinized by four judges and millions of people on network television in a blind audition for NBC’s “The Voice.”
The camera panned from one judge to another — Shakira, Adam Levine, Usher, Blake Shelton, all musical powerhouses in their own right — as Beau amped up the crowd, a nearly unbreakable smile on his face. He seemed to be willing one of the judges to spin his or her chair around, proclaiming that this man from a little Colorado mountain town had been selected to continue the path to vocal superstar.
The early years
The road to stardom is never a short one, and Beau’s mother, Lynn Thomas, said her son’s began as a little boy, when he first took an interest in music.
“I remember one Christmas, I think he was about 5 years old, he had a lot of musical instruments and he would stand in front of the microphone and sing,” she said. “I could always tell he had a really good voice when he would sing along to the radio and that kind of thing.”
Beau joined the school choir in seventh grade and picked up the guitar when he was 15 after his father bought him an acoustic for Christmas, but he never had any formal musical training.
“I’m just all self-taught,” he said. “The Internet kind of taught me how to play music. It’s not where I get my soul, but that’s where I’ve learned chord progressions and all of that. My mom was a singer for a little bit before she had me, from what she says. That’s where I get my voice from is from her.”
Lynn, who now resides in Las Vegas, said all of her kids got a little bit of her love for music, and Beau remembered a lot of songs that she would sing along to in the car.
“I think that it’s a genetics thing, just like you get blue eyes,” she said. “I think a certain amount of that is born into people.”
Though he knew he could sing, Beau didn’t truly find his voice until after high school, when he got another guitar and started playing for friends at parties.
“I discovered open mic nights in Denver, so I started going and doing open-mic nights when I turned 21,” he said. “The first time I ever played for money was on 16th Street Mall. And I would go down there on a busy holiday weekend and set up on the corner and open my case and make 30 or 40 bucks in a few hours and go drink it away at a bar.”
Unsure of what to do with his life at that point, Beau moved to Summit County, where his two older brothers lived. He traded in busking on street corners for a job at Prost in Frisco.
“I would bring in my guitar every once in a while when it was slow, and the owner heard me play and decided that I was going to host their open-mic night,” Beau said. “He bought me all the equipment I needed, and I hosted open mic there and then kept getting phone calls and kept getting phone calls, and now I’m able to do this full time, as a job, a career, a business, and it’s been a blessing. I’m just super thankful to be able to do it for a living.”
Round 1 of ‘The Voice’
Beau had established himself as a career musician, but it took a push from his mother to get him to take his talent to the national stage.
“About two summers ago, my mom called me and said, ‘Hey, I know you said you would never do ‘American Idol’’ — which I said I never would, I’d never do any of that crap, but I’d never heard of ‘The Voice’ before — my mom calls me and she says, ‘I know you told me you’d never do ‘American Idol,’ so I signed you up for this show called ‘The Voice’ and bought you a nonrefundable plane ticket; you have to do it for me.’”
Lynn said it would make a great Mother’s Day gift for her son to audition.
“It was undeniable that he had some real talent, and along with the real talent, he had the heart to go along with it,” she said. “I couldn’t stand by and watch him waste that opportunity.
“I think he needed the extra push. Sometimes, as a mom, they don’t take you as seriously when you tell them you’re good because people tend to think their kids are better than they are. I wanted to prove to him that it wasn’t just what I thought; it was an undeniable talent, not based on the advice of a mother.”
Beau humored his mom, took the ticket and went to an open call audition. The process started with a group a cappella song, after which the room was cleared, leaving Beau the only one of 10 to move on. The second round was a callback audition, where he performed with a backing track and was sent to a casting interview.
“Then they send you home and you kind of wait for a phone call,” he said. “Then they flew me to L.A. for executive callback auditions. I was there for a week for psychiatric evaluations, interviews, testing, one final audition, and they send you home.”
After all of the work and auditions, the show called to say he hadn’t made the next cut.
Family support to try again
Beau said he was happy with how far he had gotten, but it was actually his girlfriend, Brittany Harmon, who encouraged him to try again.
“After Season 4, I didn’t want to,” he said. “She made the point that I needed to strike while the iron’s hot. She knows that music is my passion, and she said, ‘I want you to set a good example for our kids. I want them to have something to look back on in 10 to 20 years when they are down in the dumps and feel like they can’t chase their dreams. We can show them this trip and show that you can.’
“She was a big catalyst to push me to audition again. I’m so thankful that she was. With my brothers that live in Summit County and my mom and my dad and everybody that’s a part of my family that’s supportive, it’s been amazing.”
Beau has a 3-year-old stepdaughter, Cameron, and 10-month-old twins. Brittany said he’s an amazing dad, often staying home with the kids more than their mother because she works days at the Butterhorn Bakery & Café in Frisco and he works evenings at his music gigs. Brittany said Beau is a good role model for their children, pursuing his goals and not letting setbacks discourage him.
“I love that it shows them that he’s taking a risk on himself, and he’s following his dreams, and that’s exactly what I want our kids to do,” she said. “Every time he doubts himself or wonders if he’s being selfish, I just tell him, ‘You’re doing it for our whole family and, most important, you are showing our kids how to follow their dreams.”
‘Hunger Games’ for artists
With the support of his family, Beau once again went through the entire grueling audition process for “The Voice,” from open call to executive callback, but this time, the caller on the other end of the line had better news: He’d made it to the next step, the blind audition.
“It’s funny because it was almost like ‘The Hunger Games’ for artists because it was so intense and hurry up and wait,” he said of the process for the blind audition. “But it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done because of the people that you meet.”
A pool that started with 70,000 performers was whittled down to 119 of the best. All 119 were sequestered in a hotel in Burbank, Calif., for a month, not allowed to leave or talk to the other hotel guests.
“The 119 of you, with all the same dream, you get very, very close, almost like a summer camp for adults for most of us,” Beau said. “What made the process wonderful was the relationships I built with people; friends who will be at my wedding, people I’ll know for the rest of my life.”
Days were filled with wardrobe fittings, band rehearsals, camera rolls for the various segments of the TV show, an awkward interview with Carson Daly that was never aired and vocal lessons with a professional coach. There was also a lot of sitting and waiting, wondering what would happen next.
“We were all going kind of bonkers out there,” Beau said. “They gave us the psych evaluation during the executive audition. At the end of the blind audition process, we were saying they should have given us the psych eval now because I don’t think half of us would pass it after spending a month in this damn hotel.”
Singing for the judges
As time ticked by and the dreamers each took their turn on stage, the judges for “The Voice” began to pick and choose who would move on to the next round of the show. Each judge could only take a set number of contestants for his or her team, and Beau began to fear that the teams would fill up before he ever stepped foot on the stage.
“I sat in the studio all day, from 7 in the morning to 8 or 9 at night on Day 4 of the auditions,” he said. “I thought, man, I might not get a chance to do this. When they finally called my name, I wasn’t nervous, I was just super pumped that I got to do it at all. … I had a few friends who didn’t get to get up there at all, and they were devastated.”
Singing for the judges was amazing, but Beau said the best part was the studio audience cheering him along, none louder than the voices of his family.
“It was incredible,” Brittany said. “I was just proud of him for going in the first place, but watching him just get onto the stage — he clicked his heels on his way up. We were all just so happy that he got a chance to perform, and then to watch him be so giddy and so grateful to be there, I could not have been prouder.”
“It was surreal,” Lynn said. “As a parent, we always have these proud moments that fill our hearts, but I never imagined that feeling of pride could be so enormous as it was at that moment. It wasn’t just for his singing ability, it was for how he handled the whole process.”
As the final notes of Beau’s song, Ray LaMontagne’s “You Are the Best Thing,” drifted into the darkness, it became clear that his television journey had come to an end: None of the judges had turned a chair.
“It was disappointing,” Beau said. “It was hard because you go through that whole process, I’d dedicated so much time to hopefully taking it on, that when they didn’t turn, it was tough, but it was quickly overcome just by how excited I was to be there at all. It was an honor to share the stage with all those artists.”
“I just think it takes a lot of guts, and I think it’s probably one of the scariest things you can do is to follow through with what you’ve always wanted to do,” Brittany said. “I think it takes so much to bet on yourself, and it’s scary to go through with something like that. And I’m so proud of him for doing it, and he’s so talented. I’m just so happy that he got to share it with the world.”
It’s a long and time-consuming process to film a TV show, to tough it out through rounds of auditions, but to be one of 119 of a crowd of 70,000 shows Beau’s determination and virtuosity.
“It’s a five-minute segment for everyone else to see, but Beau has put in so much work just for the filming and all the auditions he went through,” Brittany said. “And that five minutes — he put in over nine months, from the very first auditions, well over a year of work and flying and traveling and just the nerves — he’s worked so hard, and he deserves every bit of it.”
“He was just so upbeat,” Lynn said. “Even without a chair turning, he was just so excited to be there. It was like watching the little boy I mentored and raised in a moment of pure joy. For him, it was pure joy.”