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Not too long ago, 38-year-old Kaufman was either regularly performing solo to sandwich eaters at Potbelly on Monument Circle, or with his band, The New Etiquette, at local clubs and bars around the city.
But the venue a couple weeks ago couldn’t have been more different, as he performed on NBC’s The Voice, that Emmy Award–winning, glorified talent show that draws tens of millions of viewers to each episode. He also had to endure the pressure of winning over four multiplatinum-selling musicians—all of whom keep their chairs turned initially, their backs to the singer, unless they’re charmed by the voice behind them.
So how did he perform George Michaels’s tough vocal on “One More Try” with such ease?
“I've played many shows," Kaufman tells IM. "That didn't keep me from getting nervous, but I think it helped me to manage the nerves. And it didn’t hurt that Adam [Levine] turned his chair so quickly; that really gave me a sense of relief early on in the performance.”
Shortly after Levine turned, the other three judges followed suit, their names being Blake Shelton, Shakira, and—finally—Usher. However, Kaufman, wielding that stirring voice, chose to join Team Adam, which actually seemed rather obvious in light of the more soulful vibes of Maroon 5's early work. “The philosophy student in me wanted to be really rational and take everything into consideration,” he says of how he chose which coach's proverbial wagon to hop. “They all had incredibly positive things to say, which was amazing to hear," Kaufman says. "Ultimately, the fact that Adam turned so early and seemed so engaged in the performance really swayed me."
» Kaufman's take on "One More Try" is available now on iTunes. He also sings the song in the video below.
As Team Adam's intra-squad battle rounds start tonight, Kaufman will continue carving out more time in the national spotlight. He’ll also have to prove his raw-and-real style is worthy of a reality-show world that sometimes fixates itself on the same banal, regurgitated ideas and sounds.
That said, Kaufman isn’t worried about damaging his credibility. “Whether you find it in a little jazz club, or on the street, or on a big stage, or on national television, talent is talent,” he says. “If you refuse to listen to somebody just because he or she was on a reality show, then you're making your choice based on bad criteria.”
Kaufman is simply focused on using The Voice as a (much larger and faster) vehicle to reach the masses. “I just want to have the opportunity to make good music and get it out there to as many people as I can, and being on The Voice makes that possibility more real than it's ever been for me.”
For you Potbelly regulars on the Circle, if your meals just aren’t the same without a side of Kaufman’s vocal chops, don’t worry—he hasn’t forgotten about you. “ I have no idea what the future holds,” he says. “But I’d definitely be up for coming back to rock out for the lunchtime crowd again.”
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