Austin Jenckes has gone national with the unique way the singer/songwriter honors his late father.
Jenckes, a 25-year-old Western Washington University graduate, uses his father's 41-year-old guitar while performing. It's especially poignant when he sings Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man" in memory of his father, Zac Jenckes, who passed away when Austin was 16 years old.
Now he's hit the big time by recently surviving a "blind audition" to earn a spot on country superstar Blake Shelton's team on "The Voice," the NBC reality show that airs on Monday and Tuesday nights.
Nearly two years ago, he moved from Bellingham to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue his songwriting and singing ventures, but he has performed several times in Bellingham and other Northwest cities on periodic trips back to his home state.
His appearances on "The Voice" were filmed during the summer in Los Angeles and will be shown this fall during the battle rounds and the knockout rounds. Rules of the show prohibit him from talking about exactly how far he advanced and whether he will appear on the live performances that will cap the show's fifth season.
Late in September, he survived the blind audition portion of the show, following auditions earlier in the year, so he already has fulfilled a dream by performing on a national stage.
Question: Austin, what was it like during your blind audition?
Answer: The four coaches have their backs turned during the auditions. After I sang "Simple Man," two of them, Blake Shelton (who has six platinum or gold albums and 14 No. 1 songs) and Cee Lo Green turned around (to accept him on their 12-singer teams). I chose to join Blake's team because I felt he was right for me and could teach me the most.
Q: Why did you move to Nashville?
A: I've written a lot of country music and I moved there to become a songwriter. Songwriting was my way to make money and provide a financial foundation. It's not (the old-time country singing of) Buck Owens and Merle Haggard! I've had a few songs on hold, but nothing has been cut yet.
Q: How did you decide to audition for "The Voice"?
A: Here in Nashville, there's a lot of opportunities to do a million different things. A friend asked me if I had considered "The Voice." I survived my first audition (last December) in Nashville. At the time, I was working 9 to 5 driving a forklift and singing on the weekends. Later, I gave scooter tours. I also would occasionally come back to the Northwest (he has performed at the Wild Buffalo and other venues).
Q: What was your next audition?
A: I got a call for preliminary auditions in Los Angeles and survived while getting the chance to sing ... "Simple Man." Now I feel very blessed to be put through to the next level. For me, that part was scary, but not so scary (as it was for many performers). It was a last hurrah or a definitive moment for some. I had a lot at stake, but more so it was a great opportunity to get my name out there. I feel I will write and perform (in some way) the rest of my life. I want to share what I have to say through my music.
Q: How did your father become your inspiration?
A: I grew up in Snohomish Valley and moved to Duvall when I was in middle school. It's a good community of people there. A lot of people were very supportive. I felt very uplifted by the community. Dad was a singer and guitar player. He was a fan of groups like The Eagles and that's how I became a fan. I play his Takamine guitar. It's in great shape.
He would pull out his guitar and play at parks when I was growing up. I have vivid memories of people following him and listening to him. I would go with him when he would do open mics.
Q: And that helped you?
A: At first, I didn't have the confidence to get up to the mic. But he encouraged me to get up there when I was 13. I saw how people would react to him and it convinced me how music was meant for sharing. He was all about sharing music with people. I have so many crazy stories (about his father's influence).
Q: What was WWU like for you?
A: My major was communications and my minor was self-designed in audio recording at Fairhaven College. Western is an amazing institution and people were very supportive. Dr. Tara Perry in the communications department shares with her students a video of me talking about my dad. She would probably say she's my biggest fan. She's a wonderful teacher.
Q: What's most important for you now as you move on?
A: Music and people are the biggest things in my life. I feel very blessed and very lucky to be where I am.
The origin of the song "Simple Man" was corrected Oct. 15, 2013.
WATCH AUSTIN JENCKES PERFORM
The battle rounds, where the coaches pair their artists in do-or-die duets, begin Monday, Oct. 14. NBC airs two episodes of "The Voice" each week: Mondays at 8 p.m. and Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Highlights of the auditions, information about each artist and more are online at nbc.com/the-voice. Performances from Austin Jenckes and the other singers are available on iTunes.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.