Jonathan Hutcherson didn’t know how close his big moment came to not happening.
Competing in the blind auditions for the NBC singing competition series, The Voice, the West Jessamine High School junior had been in Los Angeles for weeks, hurrying up and waiting to perform for judges who were selecting their teams of 12 singers. The blind auditions had been going on for four days, and a few times he was told he would be on soon, only to have plans changed.
Finally, late on the fourth day, he strolled onto the stage in a gray sweater and salmon pants, ready to give his rendition of One Direction’s You & I, while his family watched from offstage.
“We were way more nervous than he was,” Jonathan’s mother, Traci Hutcherson, said. “He was calm and cool.”
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Fifty-nine seconds into his performance, they all got what they wanted. Judge and pop singer Pharrell Williams hit the big red button that turned his chair around, meaning Jonathan would be one of the competitors this season.
“I was so calm before, but all the nerves hit me when they turned around,” Jonathan said. “It was a crazy experience to see Pharrell turn around, and then we had a fist bump and he said, ‘My team is full.’”
Voice competitors dream of all four judges turning around, an unanimous endorsement of their singing talent. But when Jonathan stepped on the stage, he didn’t know that was not possible because judges Blake Shelton and Adam Levine had filled their teams. Williams and Christina Aguilera had one pick left, each. Jonathan was the 47th out of 48 competitors picked. And with the final competitor picked shortly after him, there were other hopefuls who never got a shot.
“I only had half the opportunity,” Jonathan said. “Even if nothing else happens from this, to be able to say I was on Season 10, Pharrell’s team, I will be happy.”
It was another instance of Jonathan defying the odds.
He was born with 50 percent hearing loss in each ear. On a video segment leading into his Voice audition, Traci Hutcherson said that at first, they were wondering whether he would be able to talk.
You would not notice Johnathan’s hearing aids unless you looked for them. He converses easily, with no requests to repeat questions. The main inconveniences are if the batteries die in his hearing aids, and he does wonder as he progresses in music how wearing inner-ear monitors — which many performers wear onstage — will mesh with his hearing aids.
But he doesn’t view any of it as a limitation, in part because he does not know what life is like without it.
“It’s all I’ve ever known,” Jonathan said. “I am able to cope with what I have and move forward, because there’s nothing else I ever knew, so there’s nothing else I can go back to. It’s always been me.
“I may have struggled with hearing the band or getting off rhythm, but that’s never an excuse. It’s just something to get better at.”
Talking less than 48 hours after his audition aired, Jonathan and his mother said they had been contacted by groups that deal with hearing loss, and he said he was interested in working with something like that.
“This is who I am, and it gives me a whole new audience to reach out to,” Jonathan said.
But for the moment, he is focused on music, something that has been present in his life since he was a toddler, though it is only during the past four to five years that he started seriously performing and contemplating steps like auditioning for The Voice.
He has sung in church — the family attends First Alliance Church in Lexington — and other places including the Kentucky Opry in Benton. And he started lobbying his parents to let him audition for American Idol or The Voice a few years before he met the minimum age requirement of 15. He first auditioned for Season 9 of The Voice, did not make it and was invited back to go through several rounds of auditions to get to sing in front of the judges.
Season 9 was the story of another Kentuckian: Harlan County’s Jordan Smith, whose winning run on the show broke records for sales of performances on iTunes and lifted ratings to some of the best in the series. Jonathan’s blind auditions actually took place while Season 9 was in progress. But when he returned in January for the blind auditions, Jonathan was conscious of being the Kentuckian following the Kentuckian who made an epic impression on the show.
“Now it’s like, ‘There’s another kid from Kentucky? He’s got some shoes to fill,’” Jonathan said.
Traci Hutcherson added about Smith, “The thing is, he’s not just any winner, he’s the biggest winner they ever had.”
Jonathan and Smith actually met when Smith went to meet the finalists during the battle rounds, which are the ones being aired now.
“He seems like such a sweet kid, and everyone was saying, ‘Oh, Jonathan, he has that Kentucky charm,’” Smith, whose debut album was released Friday, said last week in a Herald-Leader interview. “It’s a very good thing that he’s there, representing us again this season. I’m very happy for him and all these contestants.”
This is who I am, and it gives me a whole new audience to reach out to.
There’s another celebrity shadow Jonathan has to deal with, because he’s not the only JHutch from Kentucky. Since his audition, people have been asking if he is related to Josh Hutcherson, the actor from Union who has starred opposite Jennifer Lawrence in the Hunger Games movies and many other films such as The Kids Are All Right (2010) and the Journey to the Center of the Earth series.
To the best of the Wilmore Hutchersons’ knowledge, they are not, though Traci Hutcherson allows that if they went back enough generations, they probably would connect. They have been amused by some speculation, such as an Internet poster saying it was 99 percent certain the Hutchersons were brothers. And they also admit it’s been hard to get “jhutch” Web addresses and names because so many are taken up by Josh or his fans.
But right now, Jonathan is having fun building his own name. The Voice requires competitors to sign iron-clad agreements that they will not reveal outcomes of prerecorded competitions. So as of Wednesday afternoon when discussing the show, he could have been eliminated in one of the two remaining prerecorded rounds, or he could be heading back to California soon to compete in live rounds. He and his family can’t say.
They do note that while Jonathan has been on the show, he has had to continue his school work, putting in three to five hours a day in the classroom, working long distance with teachers from West Jessamine.
Talking about it, Jonathan said he has had a great time and made a lot of friends whom he’s been giving shout-outs to on Twitter (@jonchutch) throughout the blind auditions.
He already feels like he won.
“I want this to be a jump-start to my career,” Jonathan said. “I don’t want it to be a means to an end. This could help me. This could give me people who follow me on different platforms — social media and stuff — support me, come to my shows, come to my events.
“Of course, the experience too, learning from Pharrell and P. Diddy (a blind auditions coach) and these talented people and fellow artists. It’s been crazy, and I’m so glad to have been on it.”
8 p.m. Mon., Tue. NBC