Matt and Mike on most excellent adventure
By BETH ALTENA
The last time Matt Vermeer and Mike Sunday were in New York City, they were performing at Carnagie Hall with the World Choir competition-winning Rockford Aces men’s singing group. This time they are “poor college students,” there under their own steam, holed up in a motel in New Jersey waiting for their second audition to compete in the hot NBC television competition The Voice.
The two reported on their adventure from the motel room, recounting the trip to date, which began Saturday, July 27 at 4 a.m. in the morning, leaving Rockford in the dark dawn for a 13-hour trip. Originally headed to stay with a friend of a friend in Brooklyn, the pair had to find other accommodations and the Big Apple was expensive. They ended up in an affordable motel in North Bergen, New Jersey, on the Jersey side of the Hudson River with New York’s Manhattan a $13 tunnel trip away.
Thousands of other people were hopefuls auditioning the following day in New York for a spot on the show The Voice, and Matt said the multiple auditions are held across the country within the span of a couple of weeks. The result is that only a minute percentage of those singing their hearts out will be selected to come back for a second hearing.
Those unfamiliar with the show The Voice may not realize how intense competition is for the honor of being judged by a panel of music stars and celebrities. Those who pass muster by the strength of their vocal talent alone—the judges have their backs to the singers, facing the audience—go on to be mentored by the likes of music icon Shakira, Usher Raymond, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine.
Shakira has sold over 60 million albums, is a two time Grammy winner, nine-time Latin Grammy winner and four-time winner of World Music Awards. Usher Raymond is a seven-time Grammy winner, and one of the best selling musical artists in history. Blake Shelton is a legend of country music often referred to as being in a league with Glenn Campbell and Roger Miller. Adam Levine has been a member of the wildly popular band Maroon 5, also a multi-Grammy winner. Being coached by this caliber talent is an opportunity that cannot be overstated.
Ultimately, season winners find themselves $100,000 richer and with a recording contract from Universal Republic Records.
Matt and Mike said they weren’t sure what winners of the show receive as prizes and were actually ecstatic to be one of a very small percentage—perhaps one percent—of hopefuls who finance a trip to auditions and are asked to come back for a second.
“We didn’t expect to be here this long,” they admitted on Tuesday, two days after their initial audition and two days before their second. They brought enough clothes, luckily, but didn’t have a budget for a week’s worth of
meals. “We had to do a Wallmart run and buy a microwave and a cooler,” Matt said. “We don’t have enough money to be able to eat out every day.”
Broke, they said they couldn’t afford the $13 dollar toll across the tunnel to Manhattan so they couldn’t spend their days sightseeing in New York. They saw the city a little during their first day and again the day of their audition. They called the city “not like home.”
“We were there the summer after our junior year,” Matt said of visiting New York. He called the city “very overwhelming” with people everywhere and hideous drivers. “It really is like everything you can imagine. You hear ten different languages in just one block.”
The two said the idea to compete for a spot on The Voice was an afterthought after a competition with a bigger group fell through. They wanted to be part of a “sing-off” with five other former Rockford Aces. When some of the five couldn’t do that after all, Matt and Mike decided to take their talent on the road as a duo and try for The Voice.
The day after arriving in New York and finding a hotel they could afford in New Jersey, Matt and Mike left early to get in line for the scheduled 2 p.m. audition. They had paid their $13 toll for the tunnel and another $40 to park their vehicle in a car elevator. They expected the process to be heard to be lengthy and arduous, but instead were very impressed with the organization. They ended up flying through the wait and were given their chance to impress at about 12:30 p.m.
“They must have been putting people through every single minute,” Matt said. He said auditions were held both Saturday and Sunday, with multiple producers seeing groups of ten at a time and winnowing contenders down to just a few.
When Matt and Mike’s turn came, they were put in a room with a group of ten others, some singing in pairs like they were, some solo. They had been told to prepare two a capella songs, and were allowed to sing only a minute or so. After their audition, they were surprised to be called up to the director’s desk and given a card telling them what the process was for a second audition.
The songs they shared were Come Fly With Me by Frank Sinatra arranged specifically for their voices by Rockford Aces Director Jedd Scott. “He took the melody and wrote harmonies for it, making a piece that was very flattering to our voices,” Matt stated. The second piece was The A Team by Ed Sheeran, which he and Mike arranged themselves.
They said the director made the auditions fun and unthreatening, and complimented them after their performance. “He said Mike and I blended well, had solid harmonies and a cool sound.”
On Thursday, August 1, the two were scheduled to perform at a different location than the convention center where the first auditions were held. “The interesting thing about The Voice is it is supposed to be all about the quality of your singing, the judges don’t even look at you while they decide,” Matt said. But, he said as part of the audition process, the candidates are evaluated by sight, because the final production has to be good for television viewing.
At S.I.R. Studios the two will perform with musical accompaniment, and asked to perform three different musical pieces. They chose Mike on piano, Mike on guitar and a recorded piece. “Mike can play instruments, but he isn’t for this, he’s just a pretty face,” said Matt.
During the long wait from the first audition to the second the pair had scoured the area to find somewhere they could practice. Tom at World Wide Piano, located about 45 minutes from their motel, let them practice in his showroom. The two also spent their hours in the motel rehearsing. Friends since kindergarten and both long-time singers, they nevertheless are believers of practice and more practice.
Their experience with the Rockford Aces has been “huge” to the development of their voices and skills. Matt said even the very naturally talented need training to perform to their best level. He said the experience of the Aces has taught the individuals in the group to hear the other singers, meld well together and harmonize to offer a unified sound. Still, they knew the odds were against them.
“Neither of us expected to get this far,” said Mike. “This next round will raise the bar exponentially, be more severe.” Matt and Mike have promised to provide an update on their second audition to see how it went. If they go on to the next level, The Voice would pay to fly them from Grand Rapids to Los Angeles where the show is produced. This year’s season begins Monday, September 23.
Whether they end up representing Rockford on national television is a story for another issue. Regardless, these two and their exciting adventure is a testament to talent, hard work and willingness to try for the stars. Plus, if they don’t make it this time, “We might try again,” said Matt.