Although Jeffery Austin grew up singing, he hadn't performed in six years before he took a chance on an audition. Last year, he made it to the finals on The Voice with Team Gwen. With some coaching from some major pop icons under his belt, he's fully embracing his musical career, quitting his job and moving from New York to LA.
After learning plenty from Gwen Stefani, Rihanna, and Cher, Austin shared some of his newfound wisdom with us.
Out: How long have you been singing?
Jeffery Austin: It’s something I’ve always done in my spare time, but I really didn’t pursue music at all since high school. So it was a six-year hiatus for me from the last time I sang for a crown and auditioning for The Voice.
What made you suddenly decide to audition?
I was working a job in PR and kinda saw myself in a career path and being kinda settled down in that for a while. And I always had music in the back of my mind. It’s just something that I wanted to do. So when The Voice came to New York, I went to one of the open calls and luckily, it was very successful.
What was it like to suddenly be in the public eye once you got on the show?
It’s been very interesting having people recognize me. It’s one of the best parts about the show too, because people are so complimentary and excited to meet you and excited for what you’re doing. For people to support your dreams is always awesome. So it’s definitely a little weird when I go to Target, but it’s still pretty fun.
Do you feel a responsibility to be a kind of role model for gay kids now?
I wouldn’t say it’s a responsibility in the sense that I’m not gonna be a role model in every aspect of my life. But in terms of never compromising your dreams because you’re scared of being who you are, that I will definitely take responsibility for. But growing up, I didn’t think it was possible to be openly gay on these kinds of shows. And then there’s people like Sam Smith and Frank Ocean who’ve really opened the doors so that mainstream America is not even thinking about it anymore. It’s like not even a second thought.
How did it feel to have a pop icon like Gwen Stefani take you under her wing?
It was amazing. She’s very motherly with her contestants and personally invested in our journeys on the show. And she’s just all about us. It was one of my favorite things about being on Team Gwen. She was just really emotionally invested and she just really cared about us. And to have someone with all that knowledge and that lengthy career, it was incredible. Part of being on Team Gwen, which was nice, was that we got a lot of style and glam advice that other teams didn’t. She sat us down with all of her team (stylist, hairdresser, makeup) to really go over our looks and image, and I think that was a really big benefit about being on her team.
What would you say is the most valuable thing you learned from her?
I think the number one thing that helps me throughout all the performances was when she told me to stop being selfish with my feelings. In the earlier performances, I kept a lot of it inside, and I was just singing the song, hoping to get by on ability. And she forced me to be really open and connected with how I felt and how the lyrics made me feel, and I think that helped me connect with the audience more.
Growing up, what was one of your favorite Gwen Stefani songs?
I’m a big Clueless fan and her song, “Just a Girl” is on that soundtrack, so that’s probably my go-to Gwen Stefani song.
How did you get along with the other contestants?
The other contestants were great. They make it seem a lot more competitive than it us, but we’re all under the understanding that the coaches make the decision and eventually America makes the decision. So there’s nothing we can really do about it. We can’t get too competitive because it’s really out of our hands. So we’re just really supportive of each other because it’s a very unique experience that only we can understand. So we definitely bonded in that way and made a lot of really great friends.
What has been your most star struck moment since all of this has started?
There are two. It was meeting Rihanna for “Knockouts.” That was amazing. She was wearing a full denim jumpsuit. She had big natural curls. It was awesome. And then the second one was when Cher tweeted me when I sang her song. That was really cool. Coincidentally we found out our music director was her former music director. So they’re close friends and they were texting back and forth to make sure she watched it. So she watched it and I was so shocked and excited.
Chaning direction just slightly...marry, fuck, kill: Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, and Pharrell?
Oh my god. Marry Pharrel, fuck Adam Levine, and kill Blake Shelton because his two contestants beat me in the finale.
Watch Jeffery Austin perform Cher's "Believe" on The Voice below: