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After winning ‘The Voice,’ Jordan Smith is ready for a Harlan homecoming

“I’m excited to get back to my home that has supported me so faithfully,” newest The Voice winner Jordan Smith said of Harlan.
“I’m excited to get back to my home that has supported me so faithfully,” newest The Voice winner Jordan Smith said of Harlan. NBC

After winning The Voice Tuesday night, Jordan Smith has a lot to look forward to: a new recording contract, new performing opportunities, a new car and even more money in his bank account.

But Friday afternoon, he was most looking forward to getting home to Harlan County.

“It’s going to be very special to get to my little house nestled in the mountains,” Smith said about returning to his parents’ home in the Harlan community of Coldiron.

To Harlan, it’s going to be special to have Smith back, a sentiment that will be expressed Monday afternoon with a parade through downtown Harlan followed by a program at the Harlan Center, the same location where Smith’s hometown fans have gathered for The Voice watching parties.

“He represented Harlan County and Kentucky extremely well,” Harlan County Judge Executive Dan Mosley said Tuesday, a few hours before Smith won the top-rated NBC talent competition. “Eastern Kentucky has been in a bad situation as a result of the economy, and this has given them hope.”

Smith finished his run on The Voice Monday and Tuesday night in a whirlwind of six performances, from a group performance of Journey’s Any Way You Want It with some of his closest fellow competitors to a rendition of the contemporary Christian music classic Mary Did You Know?, which became Smith’s second song to top the iTunes songs chart.

Now is when the work starts, to dig in and keep the momentum going, move forward and make the most of this opportunity.

Jordan Smith

In an intriguing exchange, Smith’s coach, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, said that he had another song in mind for Smith, but deferred to the competitor when he chose Mary, and said it was the right choice.

“He wanted me to do I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which was on a list of songs I had submitted that I wanted to do on the show,” Smith said. “And I love that song. But as things progressed, I knew this was going to be one of the last times I sang on the show, and this is what I really wanted to do. He trusted me on that, which I really appreciated it.”

It was one of several big statements of faith from Smith,whose musical roots are in the church and who is a senior at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., which is affiliated with the Church of God.

The other big song choice was Levine’s idea: a spare performance of the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness with Smith on piano, which drew a huge response online and on iTunes.

“I had put it on my list, because I wanted to submit a hymn,” Smith said. “But I hadn’t really thought about it. Then he suggested it and suggested the really stripped down performance of it. I really appreciated that he wanted me to have that chance to express who I am.”

The performance that stretched Smith the most was also his biggest hit: a performance of the Queen classic Somebody to Love, which turned out to be Smith’s first No. 1 on iTunes, displacing Adele’s Hello. It pushed Smith as a performer, something he said he has only recently considered himself to be.

“I always considered myself to be a singer, but not necessarily a performer,” Smith said. “I’ve learned in the last few months that being a performer is where I want to focus.”

And he has a platform. With his win, he has a recording contract with Republic Records, which boasts a roster including The Weeknd and Lorde, but has also been accused of underserving The Voice winners.

“Now is when the work starts, to dig in and keep the momentum going, move forward and make the most of this opportunity,” Smith says.

I’m excited to get back to my home that has supported me so faithfully. I want to get there and thank them, because these people and these mountains have made me what I am.

Jordan Smith

Already, an album of his performances on The Voice has been released on iTunes — where most of them have already been Top 10 hits — and a CD of the performances is set to be released to Wal-Mart stores Christmas Eve. Smith says he plans to record in Los Angeles early next year, and the success he has enjoyed will mean he has to delay his return to Lee University.

He flew home Friday through Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport — coincidentally the same airport runner-up Emily Ann Roberts came home through Wednesday.

“It was really nice to have her there, literally to the end,” Smith said of the Eastern Tennessee teen he stood with as the winner was announced. “We understood each other in a way others don’t because we come from the same part of the country.

“I think that showed that we’re from someplace really special.”

And it’s a place that is pulling out all the stops to celebrate Smith, and has been doing that throughout the competition, with signs and displays around the area in support of “Team Jordan.”

“He’s always been special to us,” his second-grade teacher, Marilyn Williamson says. “Now that he’s a big celebrity, the whole world sees that.”

Smith spent the first several weeks of competition in Harlan as rounds recorded last summer played out on TV. At one watch party, Williamson recalls that Smith had a collection taken up for Christ’s Hands, a local charity to help people in poverty and distress.

People in Harlan have appreciated that Smith has kept his hometown in the spotlight as The Voice competition played out, Mosley said.

“I’m excited to get back to my home that has supported me so faithfully,” Smith said. “I want to get there and thank them, because these people and these mountains have made me what I am.”

Rich Copley: 859-231-3217, @LexGoKY

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