It’s been less than a week since a college student from deep within an Eastern Kentucky mining town became The Voice, which wasn’t much of a surprise for many in his hometown.
“When Jordan Smith walked out on the stage and sang Chandelier in the blind auditions, many of us would have bet the farm,” Harlan Judge-Executive Dan Mosley said Monday afternoon at a ceremony honoring the hometown hero.
He was recalling Smith’s first appearance on the top-rated NBC talent competition show, The Voice. That was in September, on the first episode of the show’s ninth season. Three months later, Smith was declared the winner in front of a national television audience of 12.6 million viewers.
Though the victory was not a shock, Mosley, Smith’s family and some of his many supporters who gathered in Harlan on Monday said it was a desperately needed boost to the community.
Shelley Smith Teague, Smith’s aunt, said before the ceremony that the coal slump in Eastern Kentucky has taken a toll on the community.
“I think they are just striving for some kind of hope and they’re seeing it here,” Teague said.
That hope manifested itself in a parade for Smith and a ceremony where Smith was given the key to the city, named a Kentucky Colonel and an honorary Harlan County coal miner — an honor also bestowed on his Voice coach, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. Smith also learned of plans to name the performing arts wing of Harlan County High School, his alma mater, after him.
The event attracted numerous officials including U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, who said, “Jordan, you’ve made me so proud to be from Eastern Kentucky,” and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who said the most fun she’s had encouraging people to vote was for Smith on The Voice.
All the while, the crowd cheered, took photos and begged Smith to sing — which he obliged at the end of the day, performing a rousing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, one of the songs that propelled him to his Voice victory.
Justin Blankenship, a middle school teacher from Harlan County, said Smith is someone he can point to and tell his students, “say look at what he’s doing. You guys can do this, too.
“There’s so many good things that come from Eastern Kentucky that most people may not see.”
Smith, in turn, said he’s hopeful for Harlan, too.
“Honestly, this is a win for all of you guys,” Smith said at the ceremony. “You guys should be congratulating yourselves because all I’ve done this entire time ... is be the person you made me.”
He cited his brother Lincoln, a mechanic, whom he asked to stand up “because he’s still wearing his work uniform,” as an example of someone from Harlan doing great things for the community. Jordan Smith said he represented a small part of all that’s good in Harlan.
“I’ve seen the greatness in you,” he said.
After the ceremony, Smith said Harlan was full of talented people who could do great things.
“I’m excited to see what comes from when people somehow find the courage, maybe even through this, to step up and do those things,” he said.