At the end of Jordan Smith’s concert Thursday night in the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Art Center, the singer let the microphone fall to waist level and stepped back for an astonishingly unadorned rendition of the Judy Garland classic Over The Rainbow.
His voice didn’t take any of the soaring flights it had all evening. Without the microphone, we didn’t hear the echo bounced off the theater’s back wall like we had throughout the performance. Smith just sculpted each note and phrase as a meditation on dreams coming true.
For most of last fall, the nation watched Smith’s dream of becoming a professional singer come true during his wire-to-wire win on Season 9 of the NBC singing competition show The Voice.
Thursday night’s concert was the Harlan County native’s first show in Lexington since winning the series, though he did stop by to favor the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team with a national anthem before a game in Rupp Arena earlier this year.
The Lyric Theatre was very much a homecoming show, with Smith keeping up a steady repartee with his mother, joking that he recognized many of the laughs from the audience near the stage and somewhat gloating that he’ll be getting married to his longtime girlfriend Kristen Denny next week. He then serenaded her from the piano with the classic You Are So Beautiful.
The audience was particularly appreciative of Smith’s two songs of faith: Amazing Grace, which is on his debut album Something Beautiful, and Great is Thy Faithfulness, which he sang on The Voice the week following the terror attacks last fall in Paris, and gave renewed poignance this week following the mass shooting in Orlando.
Smith’s open faith was part of his Voice journey, also singing the contemporary Christian classic Mary Did You Know? on the final competition night. A few hours before Thursday’s show, his record label, Republic Records, announced Smith will be going on a Christmas tour with contemporary Christian superstars Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith in November and December (the closest stop to Lexington is Indianapolis Nov. 26).
There were a few moments of stand-and-sing that threatened to fulfill Smith’s self-deprecating joke that he is a “45 year old in a 22 year old’s body.” Moving on stage is still an area Smith needs to work on.
But as the evening progressed, he found opportunities to cut loose, frequently urged on by the audience in moments such as his breakout final chorus on Settle, which he co-wrote, and the finale-encore wallop of What Now? and Voice competition-stopper Someone to Love.
Smith was backed by a four-piece band as solid as his vocals, who all seemed happy to be working in his service. But the star of the evening was Smith’s voice, an instrument even better appreciated live – particularly for those of us in the audience who hadn’t heard him in church or school for years -- for its sheer power, precision and delicacy.
Seeing Smith on TV was one thing. Hearing him in a 500-seat theater is quite another, particularly when he drops the mic and just sings into the room.