Sex on Fire
Nakia’s epic first-hand account of 'The Voice' tour
By Austin Powell,
10:30AM, Thu. Sep. 8, 2011
With his blind audition performance of “Forget You,” Nakia notched the most memorably national introduction since Daniel Johnston stormed MTV’s The Cutting Edge. What was even more impressive, however, was watching the local bluesman keep up the momentum, ultimately landing a spot on the show’s six-city, national tour.
Nakia provided this epic first-hand account of the experience, which, after some editing, picks up right after meeting Dolly Parton and joining Sharon Jones on stage.
July 25, Universal City, CA
Driving up to the backstage door of the Gibson Ampitheatre at Universal Studios you pass a few very iconic parts of the studio/back lot tour. The Psycho house, War of the Worlds set pieces, and the world’s largest blue-screen on water where countless films with water scenes have been shot. It’s very surreal. Then you walk in to the hall heading toward the green room and you see framed photo after photo of the many acts that have played this venue before you. The list isn’t important; it’s the vibe it sets you in that matters.
Our first full day of rehearsal and we are slated to start at 11am and, according to this paper in my hand, we are rehearsing until midnight. Luckily, we are only doing songs from the show, so it’s more about remembering the lyrics, and more importantly, knowing when we go on stage and when we come off. Choreography plays into it a bit since the stage itself is different, and while there are cameras during the show, they are stationary so there is less to worry about in that respect.
The whole gang is here, two members of each team from season one of The Voice: Myself and Vicci Martinez (Team Cee Lo [Green]), Beverly McClellan and Frenchie Davis (Team Christina [Aguilera], Dia Frampton and Xenia (Team Blake [Shelton], Casey Weston and season one winner Javier Colon (Team Adam [Levine]).
We catch up quickly and find that the tour’s Musical Director Paul Mirkovich has set it up so we are allowed to collaborate with each other during the tour. Beverly and I quickly run with the idea of doing a duet for her performance “Beautiful.” This would be the highlight of my night in every city to come. The two of us are the most unlikely pair for this song, but at the same the perfect pair for this song. Bev will also serve as a bucket drummer for Casey, a guitar player for Xenia, and as the big fat smile of the whole tour. Nobody has a heart like Beverly Shane. Nobody.
July 27, Los Angeles, CA
By the time this day comes, we have got most of it nailed down: the entrances and exits, the mixes, the vocal parts for the new group song we are singing at the end of the show, and even the bow. It all seems legit. The Voice producers have arrived today and have brought along camera crews and a lot of new questions. There are interviews to do with these crews as well as a lot of national press. The other part of the equation for this tour are the folks from I Love All Access. They are the people responsible for pimping out the first 15 rows in each city. Buy a package deal. Get a seat up front, some tour merch, and you get to meet the top eight and have your photo snapped with us before the show.
The first one of these “meet and greets” we did in LA was a bit awkward for me. I am used to actually getting to know my fans and talk a bit with them, then casually snapping a photo and maybe talking some more. Not the case here. We have security moving people through like a well-oiled machine. No time to chat. A hug here, a handshake there. Luckily, for the fans, they seemed totally content having paid their money for this extra one-on-eight moment and the seats are good, but I have to admit, I’d love to find a friendlier way to do it. If you were one of them, thank you for coming out. I hope you’ll come see me with my band and hang out some too! Just us.
During these moments where you’re so close with the fans you are also reminded that some folks shouldn’t be there and/or just don’t know how to act. There were several times, when making good on a promise to Blake Shelton, I had to keep fellas at an arm’s length from my “lil’ sis” Xenia and season one runner up, Dia Frampton. For some reason, they seem to bring out the craziest fans. A love note here, an awkwardly long hug there... Easy there cowboy, because I am definitely bigger than you.
For the most part though, it was smooth sailing in every city. The show in L.A. went off with only a few minor glitches. Sound issues mainly. Blake Shelton decided to make a last minute surprise appearance at the Gibson and ignited the audience when Dia introduced him for an impromptu performance of “I Won’t Back Down.” I had the best talk with Blake that night as we watched the show from the wings. Blake is exactly what you see on TV. Sure, he’s a loudmouth. Yes, he’s a good ol’ boy. But, what’s so cool about Blake is that he’s just so real. I truly believe that the two biggest winners of The Voice season were Blake and I.
That day I texted Cee Lo to tell him that Universal Republic had decided to not pick up my option to release any future recordings. He immediately called me up on the phone. “Hello?” There’s silence for a beat, some static, and then a familiar rasp says, “Congratulations... Now you have options. Now you get to make your own way, and nobody can tell you what makes you successful and happy but you.”
Cee Lo knows things. He’s been there. He rooted for me the whole time because he knew I was the underdog. He always called me “the exception to the rule.” The time I spent with him, especially during the live rounds, will be treasured for the rest of my life. Next we had a couple of days off before Vegas. I would use these to write more songs. I would also take the advice of Sharon Jones: “When everyone else is going out to see the sights, you better be in that hotel room resting that voice. You’ll thank me later.”
July 29, Las Vegas, NV
The MGM Grand is huge. It might have its own zip code. You could live here and never leave the premises. There’s a time lapse video of me leaving my hotel room at the MGM Grand and walking all the way to the stage. In real time I believe it took 15 minutes. You can see the kids with their big long plastic cup drinks, and the grandmas at the slots, and you can even see me pass Javier as he chats on his phone, guitar in hand, making his way to the stage as well. We would be here in Las Vegas for less than 19 hours. I had never been to Las Vegas before and I was really excited about the idea of being there, but sadly I opted to stay in the room while others hit the poker tables that night after the show.
The crowd in Vegas was older than L.A., maybe the oldest on the tour. Very few kids. That doesn’t mean it was a bad show, but there’s a real difference in audience participation when you’re 45 versus 15. Regardless, as I always have, I just sang my heart out like the place was packed with raving lunatics who were there to see a show, and I was the guy to put it on for them. I had taken to the idea of pulling my tie off during the middle of “Sex on Fire.” The crowd in Los Angeles flipped when I did it, so I tried it again in Vegas. The first night, our emcee, Bill Sindelar (a.k.a. Carson Hourly - love ya Bill!) grabbed it after I left it on stage and worked it into his bit, so I had left it again for him in Vegas, but he changed his entrance. So there it was in plain sight for Beverly to spy and toss into the audience as several folks battled for it. Whoever won was not too pleased when wardrobe came to the front of the house and snatched it back. Sorry!
August 2, Chicago, IL
I used to live in Chicago. The Sunday night that we arrived, my buddy Leo threw a party for me at the Glenwood Tavern. It was too much fun. Later, we bounced over to one of my Italian chains in Chicago called Leona’s and attempted to order a lot of food, but apparently they were out of everything. What they did have was a piano and several fans of the show that were both working and dining there, so I got asked to sing a tune. Leo caught it on video and posted it to YouTube. It’s me singing a piece of the Adam Lambert tune I sang on the show, “Whataya Want From Me?” Sadly, this was the only time I got to perform it during the tour. My two solo numbers were “Forget You,” and “Sex On Fire.”
August 4, Boston, CT
Throughout the tour, I had been making Spotify playlists and sharing them with my fans. I had recently had a call with (one half of Chester French and head of artists relations for Spotify) and told him I’d be keeping a musical playlist diary of sorts as we traveled across America. It was fun to research songs about the city. Some of these tunes were already faves of mine from way back but others I discovered in the process. It’s amazing how many songs about Boston there are out there. Connecticut would prove most difficult to mine for songs, but I pulled it off.
The two craziest crowds on the tour were easily Chicago and Boston, with the latter giving a very strong push for the lead. Vicci Martinez gave them a little something to look forward to when she forgot the lyrics to “Rollin’ in ihe Deep.” Classic Vicci moment, one that you had to be there for but really didn’t want to be there for. She’s always herself and never apologizes for it, even when it’s a bit TMI. Out of all of my fellow Voice singers, I’d say that I wanted to connect with Vicci the most and I got that chance after the show in Boston. We hung upstairs in Bev’s room with fellow season one alum and Boston local Casey Desamond and her pals. Me and Vicci just kinda spooning on the bed, talking real life - serious stuff, bones and knives, the stuff you only share after you’ve been through some shit with someone.
August 5, Wallingford, CT
When we pulled in to the venue in Wallingford, CT, the first thing we see is a barn. A big, red, barn. And I hear Beverly shriek, “We’re playing in a barn!?” It was classic. It wasn’t an actual barn, but it did have a barn attached to it. It was a quaint little theater in the middle of what seemed like no where, but the staff was friendly, the catering wasn’t bad, and the fans loved them so Javier. Yes, this was the stop on the tour that everyone who didn’t realize Javier was from Hartford might have scratched their heads at. The cool thing about playing this show was that most all of Javier’s family was in attendance. You can tell they are truly happy for him and would have been even if he hadn’t won. That’s special. It’s so rare really to find an entire family so supportive of someone who is chasing this dream. Many kids aren’t that lucky. Their parents want them to be doctors or lawyers or bankers or whatever they were, never musicians. My family has always been supportive too. I wouldn’t have come this far without their support. They always wanted me to be happy. And honestly, looking at it now, I truly am.
August 7, New York, NY
The next day was our last show of the tour, the historic Beacon Theatre. You’ve not lived until you see the inside of this place. I am still having visions of the ceiling and the fixtures. The elevator that takes you up and down the many floors backstage is covered in signatures like a rock and roll steel-box constitution or something: Donald Fagen, Gregg Allman, Gladys Knight, Don Henley, Keith Richards, Dave Grohl, and so many more. Where’s my Sharpie!? Somebody get this on video. I did get it on video actually.
The sound check went by quick and then meet and greet and boom it was on. This was the last show. Everyone was pulling out all the stops. We were on fire. That city (and maybe the whole tour really) truly belonged to one person though: Frenchie Davis. Frenchie was electrifying these audiences in every city with her performances, particularly her rousing dance-gospel fusion of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” where the other top seven singers all played the backing choir. NYC really loves a diva and baby Frenchie gives diva like nobody’s business. She’s going to be doing some great things, just wait and see.
I have yet to watch any of the videos that are up on YouTube from this night because I know I’ll be a wreck trying to watch them. During our performance of “Beautiful” that night, I literally started crying while looking into Beverly’s eyes. This was it, our last time singing on the tour together. I know we are gonna share many a stage again, but when? How soon? How long? Beverly gave me hope throughout the whole process of The Voice. Hope that America was listening - not just watching - but listening to who we were as human beings, as entertainers, and not what we might look like.
The night came to a close, and we all did our thing. Some of us hung out a bit. The crowd outside the stage door was bigger than ever. They had security yelling and begging people to please get out of the streets. I did my best to sign as many autographs and take as many photos as I could before walking back to the hotel with my management and some local friends. We all popped in to a little bar that our tour manager, Chief set up for us for a little VIP after party. It was crowded and hard to talk, but some of us were there. I ended up hitting the town with my local pals and having a blast at a little bar uptown for a friend’s birthday. I slept till 2pm the next day. I was staying in NYC an extra day for surprise… more meetings and songwriting. Have to stay on my game. No rest for the ready to keep working. That’s me