Jordan Smith has had the experience of walking into his hometown Wal-Mart and seeing an album of his on the shelves.
“It was so crazy to see so many of my face; so many pictures of myself there in the store,” Smith says after seeing the album of his performances on Season 9 of The Voice on sale in Harlan. “It was really special to see that there, and see a lot of hard work kind of in a physical form there. It’s pretty cool.”
That album, The Complete Season 9 Collection, recounted the 22-year-old Eastern Kentuckian’s historic wire-to-wire victory on the NBC singing competition, during which he charted a record number of iTunes Top 10 and No. 1 songs for a Voice competitor.
The first of his chart-toppers was a performance of the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness which bumped Adele’s massive hit, Hello, from the top of the chart.
With the victory, Smith won a Republic Records recording contract, and he wasted no time getting into the studio. His debut album, Something Beautiful, hits stores Friday, and Smith will start the day with in-store appearance at that same Wal-Mart. Maybe he’ll grow accustomed to his face.
The album is a mix of covers and originals that paired Smith with some of the music industry’s most respected producers and timeless melodies, including The Wizard of Oz classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow and the gospel classic Amazing Grace, on which he is joined by Kirk Franklin.
One song title that jumps off the track listing as possibly symbolic of the life transition Smith has gone through in the last three months is What Now?, Smith’s cover of the Rihanna hit.
“Everyone asks, ‘how amazing was it to stand there and sing Climb Every Mountain at the end of The Voice and know what you had accomplished and how hard you worked?’” Smith says. “And I tell them that it’s kind of crazy, because when the show was over, that’s when the hard work really started.
“I was at the foot of another mountain, and it was kind of a ‘what now?’ moment. And I like that song, and I chose that song because when I auditioned for The Voice, that’s kind of where I was. I was waiting for something to happen, and I had been working really hard at school and been waiting for an opportunity like this for so long … So the show really came at that time and was kind of an answer to that question.”
Smith, who got his start singing in church and school choirs growing up in Harlan County, was a student at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., though The Voice competition and aftermath has put his senior year on hold. The years of training showed up in an ability to deliver consistent superior performances on the show, putting his interpretation on tunes made famous by some of the most revered singers in contemporary music, including Sia, Sam Smith, Beyonce and Freddie Mercury.
Something Beautiful picks up where The Voice left off, starting with the Judy Garland classic, Over the Rainbow.
“For me to be able to sing a song like that and have someone in the studio like David Foster pushing me and trying new things with such a timeless song is a really special experience to be able to have,” Smith says.
Part of the push from Foster was his work technique, Smith says, because Foster does not like to use techniques like fixing and tuning notes in a computer. The pressure is on the performer to get it right, even if that means dozens of takes.
But that was a luxury he earned after The Voice. On numerous occasions in the midst of the competition, Smith says his favorite place to be was in the studio recording for iTunes. But recording the album allowed him to be in the studio without the pressures of competition and rehearsal for a live network television show.
I’ve spent countless hours in the studio on this, but I’ve also spent so much time the last few years dreaming about something like this happening.
Jordan Smith on his debut album, ‘Something Beautiful’
“I wasn’t trying to win a show, and I wasn’t trying to gain votes, I was just making music because I wanted to make something beautiful and something that I thought was extremely heartfelt,” Smith says. “I can say I poured my whole heart into these songs, and sometimes that means a little drama, and sometimes that means simplicity.”
Putting the album together, Smith says he and the producers were careful not to overwhelm listeners with an assault of soaring vocals, but instead craft a nuanced album true to the songs, which include other established classics such as Billy Joel’s And So it Goes and Sarah McLachlan’s Angel. But not being on The Voice also gave Smith a chance to put out some originals, such as Stand in the Light, the first single from the album.
“I remember the first time I heard it, I said, ‘I have to sing this song,’” Smith says of the song written by Lauren Christy and Stephan Moccio, the Grammy- and Oscar-nominated writer and producer who has worked with The Weeknd, Miley Cyrus and others. “It depicts so much of what I think the world needs to hear from me, and it depicts what I feel I represent, so I knew I just had to have it.”
From his first performance on The Voice, Smith says he wanted to convey a message of individuality and self acceptance, and he was open about his Christian faith. The chorus of the debut single repeats, “Cause the greatest risk we’ll ever take is by far, to stand in the light and be seen as we are.”
Other originals include I Gotta Be Me by Moccio and John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting and Settle, a song Smith co-wrote with a few friends. The latter, he says, was extremely gratifying as he got to see a song he helped create go onto the album.
“I’ve spent countless hours in the studio on this, but I’ve also spent so much time the last few years dreaming about something like this happening,” Smith says of his debut album.
“Today, I actually held a physical copy of the CD, with the case and everything, in my hands. When you finally get to hold it in your hands for the first time, you realize it’s all worth it, and you can imagine how many people will hear it and how many lives it has the potential to effect.”
If You Go
What: In store event in which he will meet fans and sign copies of his debut album, Something Beautiful.
When: 11 a.m. March 18
Where: Wal-Mart, 201 Walton Road, Harlan