“I’m Kevin Farris, and I’m from Arlington Heights, Illinois.”
With that, the Northwest suburban musician introduced himself to celebrity judges Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, John Legend and Blake Shelton as he burst through the blind audition stage of NBC’s “The Voice” in an episode that aired last week.
“It was equal parts terrifying at first, but then just one of the most exhilarating experiences in my life,” said the 33-year-old singer-songwriter, who now lives in Mount Prospect with his wife. “When you play a normal show, you have the normal performance nerves. And then they kind of go away as the show goes on. This is like that but on steroids. You’re just in this vacuum of intensity.”
Fans of the musical competition show saw Farris’ powerful performance of Johnnyswim’s “Home” win over the judges and draw the attention of Jonas and Legend, who fought to win the singer to their teams.
“That was a really cool, very humbling experience,” he said. “Anytime you have your contemporaries or people in the same field, but definitely on a much higher level … When you have somebody say, ‘Hey, you did a great job. We could feel your truth coming through,’ that was just amazing.”
After some warmhearted banter and an impromptu singalong with Jonas, Farris chose Team Nick.
“Nick is just such a showman and an amazing performer and entertainer,” he said. “So when he got on stage to kind of sway my decision and say, ‘Hey, let’s jam and let’s just be two kindred musicians,’ that definitely won me over.”
From there Farris spent time coaching with Jonas and prepping for the battle rounds, which air at 7 p.m. the next three Mondays.
“It’s almost like there’s a sports element to it. You go to practice and try to run the play and then the coach says, ‘Alright, let’s look at the tape,’” he said. “Let’s explore this with the song … let’s add energy here and pull back a little bit here. So it’s really truly just like having a coach.”
“And then you start to hang out with them,” he said with a laugh. “So it’s like, ‘OK, I’m friends with Nick Jonas now.’”
When he’s not rubbing elbows with musical celebrities, Farris runs his own music enrichment program for children as well as playing shows around Chicago and the suburbs.
Meshing influences from his musical father and his mother, a librarian who worked in youth outreach, Farris built on his knack for working with children, which he discovered while a teaching assistant at Westgate Elementary in Arlington Heights. He created a program for preschoolers at participating North Shore and Lincolnshire schools that is part music appreciation, part fundamentals of musical theory and part gym class.
“How can I get these kids having fun but also subtly learning things about music theory?” he wondered. His curriculum includes clapping and dancing along to music by “Mr. Kevin,” playing a dodgeball-type game and using giant keyboard mats to teach pitch recognition, all instilling musical basics in the children.
“My hope is that if they do want to pursue music, there might be something that’s getting planted in their subconscious right now,” he said. “That they say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I know that B note because when I was preschooler I played this game and this crazy dude in a hat was running around with the dodgeball, and now I know that.’ So that would be sort of my selfish hope, I guess, that in some way I played a small role in their appreciation for music as they move forward.”
By night, Farris can be found (in COVID-19-free times) playing both solo and full-band gigs in listening rooms such as at Hey Nonny in Arlington Heights and Uncommon Ground in Chicago. He’s also frequented stages at the Arlington Ale House, Cubby Bear and the House of Blues.
“My number one goal is to be a full-time touring musician,” Farris said. “So obviously ‘The Voice’ opportunity was a really cool way to think about expanding on that part of my dream. The exposure from that is something that you can’t really compete with. … 14 million people tune in and they see your goofy mug singing on the screen.”
“That’s like my bread and butter. I love it,” he said. “But to be able to wake up in the morning and have to run around and scream with some preschoolers is pretty cool.”