Music News & Reviews

Harlan County’s Jordan Smith wins ‘The Voice’

Tyler Golden/NBC

Harlan County’s Jordan Smith won the top-rated NBC talent competition show The Voice Tuesday night.

With the victory, Smith earned $100,000, a Republic Records recording contract and, a prize each of the final four competitors received, a new Nissan.

Smith took the title in a final show that saw him team up with Usher for a scorching rendition of David Guetta’s Without You and five of his former competitors for Journey’s Any Way You Want It, all in front of an audience that included his parents and his former chorus teacher at Harlan County High School.

During a video segment in the show, Smith, a senior at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., reflected on how he’s spent this fall.

"It is so surreal to think that I’m sitting here at the finale," Smith said. "I can remember sitting in class and doing my music theory homework and taking exams and wishing for something like this.

"I’ve learned that on this show, you can be exactly who you are. You don’t have to fit that mold that everyone says you have to fit. And to win The Voice would prove that for me."

If there is such a thing as a wire-to-wire win in talent competition shows, Smith accomplished it.

In the season’s blind auditions, he stunned the judges with his rendition of Sia’s Chandelier, sparking a fierce competition between judges Gwen Stefani and Adam Levine to be on their teams. Smith chose Levine, who told Smith, “I think you’re the most important person that’s ever been on this show,” and has enthusiastically been in the singer’s corner throughout the competition.

In subsequent rounds, Smith beat out competitors who had already had professional singing careers to enter the show’s live competition where he took on a variety of genres, from rock to pop to hymns to showtunes, and mastered them all. Throughout the competition, the show’s judges showered him with praise.

Smith also made unprecedented runs for The Voice competitors on the iTunes Top 100 Songs chart. On the show, iTunes sales count as votes, and making the Top 10 multiplies votes.

In Monday night’s final competition show, host Carson Daly noted that Smith made the chart’s Top 10 for five weeks straight, which had never happened on the show, and then he did it again with Monday’s performances, all three of which landed in the Top 10. And his rendition of the contemporary Christian classic Mary, Did You Know became his second No. 1 after last week’s performance of the Queen classic Somebody to Love.

“It’s incredible this little guy from Harlan County can be topping the iTunes charts,” Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley said Tuesday.

The epicenter of happiness for Smith has been in his home county, where watch parties for The Voice episodes have grown to hundreds of people the past few episodes and Mosley declared November Jordan Smith month. Mosley said support for Smith can be seen all over the county, in signs, billboards, T-shirts, even a Christmas tree at Appalachian Regional Healthcare Hospital decked out in Jordan Smith ornaments.

While the world has just gotten to know Smith this fall, Mosley and others point out that he’s been a fixture in the county for years, from singing at his church, House of Mercy in Wallins Creek, to singing the national anthem at ballgames and in school choirs.

Mosley recalls Smith winning another big prize, the Poke Sallet Idol competition at the annual Poke Sallet festival in 2012. By then, people knew big things could be in store for the singer.

“Jordan’s story gives so much credibility to the rich history of the arts in these mountains,” Mosley says, pointing out that with Knoxville’s Emily Ann Roberts also in the Final Four, half of The Voice finalists this season hailed from Appalachia.

What you see on TV about his sweet, kind, gentle spirit; he’s always been that way, and success hasn’t changed him.

Marilyn Williamson, Jordan Smith’s second grade teacher at Wallins Elementary School

What Harlan residents really appreciate is they recognize the guy they have seen on the show.

“What you see on TV about his sweet, kind, gentle spirit — he’s always been that way, and success hasn’t changed him,” Marilyn Williamson, Smith’s second-grade teacher at Wallins Elementary School, said Tuesday.

She’s had a chance to see that recently, as Smith spent the early part of the fall, while recorded rounds of The Voice were playing out on TV, substitute teaching in Harlan County Schools, including Wallins Elementary. Smith took this semester off from Lee University because of The Voice competition.

“You hear all the time how he has taken time to do this and do that, to sign their notebooks or take a picture or talk to a student,” Williamson says. With Smith’s example, she says students “believe they can do whatever their dreams are, and they will come true.”

Mosley says that is particularly important in an area hit hard by poverty and dips in the economy.

As Christmas approaches, the Harlan community was already preparing to welcome Smith home, whether or not he won. He was named Harlan Countian of the year, which usually earns the recipient a spot as grand marshal of the annual Christmas parade. But he was in the middle of The Voice competition, so his family rode the float while videos of his performances played on a TV screen mounted to the float.

Mosley said he hopes to be able to announce a parade and program for Smith once they know his schedule. He suspects it will be the first of many big homecomings.

“Jordan Smith is going to be a musical icon for years to come, whether he wins or not,” Mosley said Tuesday afternoon. “That brings a new spotlight to Harlan.”

Rich Copley: 859-231-3217, @LexGoKY