It’s how UConn alum and “The Voice” contestant Drew Cole ’14 (CLAS) sums up his experience on the Emmy-award winning reality-competition program.
“For the blind auditions, we’re sequestered in a hotel for a month perfecting a song, [and] you know that you’re going to get in front of these celebrity coaches,” Cole said. “It’s especially important to put everything you have into that.”
That’s what Cole did, walking on stage with his signature guitar and hat and singing “Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground for coaches Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Alicia Keys, and Kelly Clarkson. His performance immediately got a chair turn from Adam.
“What was fun about that song [was its] on the nose message,” Cole remembered. “I was singing ‘who’s that lounging in my chair, casting devious stares in my direction.’ It was a coincidental moment with the timing [of Adam Levine’s chair turn]. By the end of it, [singing] ‘this surely is my dream, mama this is my dream’ – it literally was. To be there and be successful, it was a dream.”
Cole also turned Blake’s chair, but ultimately decided to join Adam’s team, beginning an unforgettable journey that he says has opened doors for him.
“It’s been damn cool,” he said. “’The Voice’ helped set me apart and put me on a pedestal during my time on the show.”
From Economics to the Recording Studio
Growing up, he was inspired by his father, a hobbyist guitar player who instilled the love for rock music in Cole, such as The Rolling Stones, Little Feat, and The Police.
“I was a rocker,” Cole said. “All that is so deeply rooted in everything I do musically [with] the energy and soulfulness that rock music has. I built everything off that foundation.”
Cole started playing guitar in sixth grade, eventually playing in a high school band, Insinu, that won the Battle of the Bands three times at Ridgefield High School. It was during his senior year when he gained confidence in his vocals.
“Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon, and Allen Stone have been a huge inspiration,” he said.
Despite his early musical success, he didn’t yet see music as a career path when he applied to college. He decided upon UConn, noting it was a great school.
“I loved business and economics, and ultimately decided upon economics [as a major],” Cole said. “But I was always taking music courses. It was such an important piece of my life.”
It was during his sophomore year when he had sudden success on YouTube. A video entitled “Golden Loves Guitar,” featuring Cole playing for his best friend, Richie Hume’s dog Bailey, went viral with more than 14 million views. That catapulted his brand and name into the spotlight.
“I got hit up by a music producer in Los Angeles, Jimmy McGorman, who said ‘if you get yourself out here, we’ll record some songs,’” Cole explained. “We got out to LA and recorded some music. LA inspired me so much musically. For the first time, I thought I wanted to play music for the rest of my life.”
His family was supportive of his new aspirations. But after auditioning for the Berklee College of Music in Boston and evaluating the cost of tuition, he decided to stay at UConn, making a promise to himself that he would move to LA after graduation. During his time at UConn, he participated in intramural sports, performed on campus, and made lifelong friends.
“Because of UConn, I have some of the best friends,” he said. “I’m the only guy that played live at Huskies Bar and I played at Ted’s. A lot of my musical discovery came from campus [through] connecting people and being involved with my class.”
After graduation in 2014, he packed up his car and went to LA. He auditioned for “The Voice” twice before making it to the blind auditions.
“Third time’s a charm,” he said.
His Time on Team Adam
After earning a spot on Team Adam, Cole performed in the Battles, where two singers from each team are paired to compete against each other. Cole and former contestant Miya Bass performed “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan.
“That one came really naturally to both of us,” Cole said. “You have to approach it with that soulful edge, and I think we accomplished that.”
Cole won the battle, earning praise from Adam as having a “timeless” voice. He continued to the Knockout rounds, where singers are paired off again and coaches pick a winner. But this year featured not just a “steal” feature by other coaches, but a “save” feature, where a coach could choose to save a performer that lost the Knockout. That new feature would come in handy for Cole, who performed “Slow Hands” by Niall Horan.
“This was my effort to sing something more current,” Cole said. “[Horan] reached out to me on Twitter and said he loved my version. I was really proud of that performance.”
Cole performed against current contestant Jackie Verna, who was dubbed the winner. Almost immediately, Adam hit the “save” button to keep Cole – and then a moment later, Blake tried to steal him.
“It was interesting because I was conflicted with the same choice, Blake or Adam,” Cole said. “I stuck with Adam. He’s a really great guy. His ear is amazing musically. He’ll pick things out that no one else will hear.”
After that, Cole’s first live performance was “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson.
“I took the hat off and showed the side of me without the guitar,” he said. “The guitar is a big part of what I do, and the vulnerability can come off as attractive to the listener. That was really fun.”
The performance did not earn him an automatic bid into the top 12 based on audience votes, so he came back the next night and sang “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones.
“I brought the guitar and hat back out and just sang my butt off,” he said. “That one was really special. That was a song I had sung with sister, Ali, growing up. That was a nostalgic feeling. I sang this song in my backyard for events.
“The day I sang it was the same night I learned I was going home,” he added. “I have no regrets. To go off singing “Wild Horses,” I think was totally good. I felt really good and I’m proud of myself.”
Although Cole didn’t crack the top 12, he made several good friends during his time on the show.
“People don’t realize how close [contestants] get from being on this show,” he said. “We gain friendships and we collaborate. Mia Boostrom, Reed Umstadd, and I all went home at the same time and we were really close.”
In fact, because of “The Voice,” he’s planning a show with one of the other contestants, Dylan Hardigan, on June 29 at the Ridgefield Playhouse.
“I’m coming home to Ridgefield,” Cole said. “I don’t think I would’ve had that opportunity without ‘The Voice.’”
The Road Ahead
Cole is still working on announcing other performing dates. Fans can stay up-to-date at www.drewcolemusic.com and on Instagram and Twitter @DrewColeMusic. He plans to put out a few singles over the next couple of months. And, he’s still following the show that launched new opportunities for him. He’s not sure who’ll win but he has some favorites.
“Brynn Cartelli is incredible,” he said. “She’s got America by her side. She’s phenomenal and crazy talented. Britton Buchanan is ridiculously good and he’s only 18. It’s so crazy to see the talent on this season. I’m grateful to have been there. I learned so much.”
Cole encourages aspiring musicians to be true to themselves and to never give up.
“Audition,” he said. “Be yourself and believe in yourself, because that’s who you are, and that’s going to be the best version of you when you show your soul musically.”
He’s especially grateful to all those in UConn Nation who supported him.
“As big as UConn is, to recognize something you’re doing is special to me,” he said. “I really do appreciate the support you have all given out.”
For more information, visit www.drewcolemusic.com.