When it was announced that Willie Nelson would be at this year’s Master Musicians Festival, every-one assumed he would be the big star of the event.
Now? Willie might want to move over and make room for Brandon Roush.
“We may have two head-liners,” quipped Tiffany Bourne, MMF president, with a laugh.
That’s because Roush, a Somerset native, made a splash Tuesday night on the popular NBC reality television show “The Voice.”
Roush, scheduled to appear at this year’s Master Musicians Festival with his band The Dirty Grindstones, made it through the initial audition phase of the singing competition, in which one of four well-known music industry icons selects a vocalist, sight-unseen, to be on their team — based only on the voice.
Sometimes all four of the stars — this season, the roster consists of curvy Columbian songstress Shakira, R&B triple-threat Usher, Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine, and country crooner Blake Shelton — turn around in their seats to fight over a singer. But Roush’s fans here in Somerset found themselves a little taken back that only Shakira took a chance on Roush.
“I thought he was amazing,” said Bourne. “I thought he deserved more chairs to turn around.”
Of course, reality TV shows are always at the mercy of editing — some local fans of Roush have suggested on social media that it’s possible the other stars’ teams were already full and they couldn’t take Roush. In fact, Roush’s mother, Kimberly Williams-Roush, said that they weren’t even sure he would get to audition this season.
“These (episodes) don’t air in the same order (the auditions) went,” she said. “As the blind auditions went on, there was a chance he wouldn’t get to this season. If the teams fill up before they get to (late auditioners, they) get a get a pass to the front of the line in Season 5, so we were preparing for him maybe having to audition next season. We’re very pleased that it worked out the way it did.”
Especially since the Roush family took a big risk with Brandon’s future just to audition for the show. Roush, a 2011 graduate of Southwestern High School, was attending the University of Louisville, studying musical theatre and broadcast journalism, when he decided to try out for “The Voice.”
“We had to make a decision when all this started because he was on scholarship at UofL, and we knew he’d have to sit out this year if he was going to do the show,” said Kimberly. “It was a big decision on our part to allow him to pursue this because we knew he could have lost the scholarship and everything, but in hindsight, we’re very pleased with the decision.”
Brandon is indeed chasing a lifelong dream now; his mother recalled that he’s been singing ever since he was about 3 years old, when he’d belt out sacred numbers in the family’s old church in Indiana. He’s performed at a gospel music festival at Renfro Valley and honed his craft at the Governor’s School for the Arts here in Kentucky. And of course, he’s played at Master Musicians Festival twice already with his band The Dirty Grindstones (formerly No Tale Lights), with another appearance scheduled for this July.
But “The Voice” is altogether different, a much wider kind of exposure. A ratings juggernaut for the key 18-49 viewer age demographic, Roush stands to go from being locally known to a household name across the country should he keep advancing.
“He’s totally overwhelmed (by all the attention),” said his mother. “This means the world to him. He’s only 19, but knows what kind of opportunity has been put in front of him. I told him to just be himself, to be honest, and enjoy every minute, because it could all be over next week.
“With the stage he’s on,” she added, “with the exposure he’s getting because of the show, you never know what could happen.”
The audition phase shown on TV this week was actually filmed in October of 2012 — “I’ve been dying to share, but I’ve had to keep it quiet,” said Kimberly. Next comes the “Battle Round,” in which Shakira as a judge will pit Brandon up against someone else on the team. They’ll perform a duet together, and Shakira will pick who moves on. After the “Knock-Out Round,” Shakira will have three people left on her team, at which point the performers will take the stage live on national TV and America will vote for who they want to move on, much like is done on other shows like “American Idol.”
Roush has stayed out in Los Angeles, where the show is filmed, doing promotional interviews for the show, rehearsing, and doing volunteer work (such as at the L.A. Regional Food Bank).
“He’s working six days a week,” said Kimberly, noting that this is the first time he’s been this far away from home by himself. “He absolutely loves it.”
Brandon was also pleased with the way he was portrayed on TV — always a key factor with the art of editing reality shows — and that it showed that he was “average” kid, the same one who first auditioned in Atlanta a year ago, said Kimberly. Brandon’s work with autistic children through his job at ABA (Applied Behavioral Advancements) was also spotlighted. While reality shows tend to focus on a contestant’s personal story, often involving overcoming some kind of tragedy, the producers had to dig a little deeper to find Brandon’s hook, according to his mother.
“He didn’t have a sob story, he wasn’t abused, he came from a good family,” said Kimberly. “They finally asked him what he does for a living, and he said he works with autistic kids every day. Ding ding ding, there you go. But it’s a true story — he’s been working there for years now.”
Roush performed a Joe Cocker-esuqe version of the Beatles tune “With a Little Help From My Friends” and has been compared to the bluesy singer Cocker numerous times so far while on the show, said Kimberly. And indeed, Roush has gotten by with help from his friends — and his fans here in Somerset, the same ones that Kimberly said nearly crashed her phone with excited calls and texts Tuesday night.
“He’s so sweet, just a good guy,” said Bourne. “He didn’t need our (MMF’s) help for sure. We’re blessed to have him this summer. I think America, when they see him in more than a minute and a half, (will see that). He really is different than your typical pop star.”
Different in one way for certain — Somerset can call him its own.