You can’t have a conversation with Jaron Strom about his successful blind audition on NBC’s “The Voice” without asking him about that jacket.
“I got that at Forever 21 a year ago, and it was almost a joke,” said the 29-year-old Charlottean, a full-time web designer who – obviously – wants to make it in the music biz. “I was like, man, I want to wear a leopard print jacket at my shows a few times. It says ‘SAVAGE’ on the back and, of course, it gets attention no matter where you’re at. ... It was 25 dollars, and I brought it out there (to the audition) just in case, and they (the producers) happened to love it.”
That being said, it wasn’t the clothing choice that helped Strom earn a bid from celebrity judge Blake Shelton. It was the song – the 1960 R&B/soul “This Magic Moment,” by Ben E. King and The Drifters – and the marvelous way Strom sang it on Tuesday night’s episode.
“I knew from the second you started singing that I was into it, but you kept taking it to the next level,” Shelton told the singer after giving him a standing ovation during the broadcast. “There’s just a quality to your voice that I think’s endearing, and it drew me in.”
But if everything you know about Strom at this point is based on what you saw on TV, then you don’t know much. So we caught up with him by phone from Charlotte on Wednesday afternoon, which he’d taken off from work to run through a few rounds of phone interviews with various media. Here’s what we learned:
1. He’s never lived outside of North Carolina. Born and raised in Shelby, an hour west of Charlotte, Strom attended Appalachian State University in Boone, where he studied graphic and web design. After briefly returning to Shelby upon graduating from college in 2010, he moved to Charlotte to find work.
2. He grew up listening primarily to Christian music. In fact, his parents, Bob and Dana, comprised a singing duo that performed ballads and Christian music at weddings, churches, events and religious-themed conventions. “But the guilty pleasure was when I would hang out with my grandpa, my mom’s dad. He introduced me to Motown and oldies, and that’s where I found my escape.”
3. But he didn’t start trying to make music himself until he was at App State. “I got an acoustic guitar – I think it was an Ibanez – and played around with the basic handful of chords, and started writing little simple songs and singing. I was just trying to relieve stress in my college dorm room. I was definitely a hopeless romantic in my younger days, and I was kind of a dork, so I always leaned towards songs about, you know, trying to get the girl, and nice guy finishes last, or girls I would see around campus that I thought were beautiful. I really was inspired in college by Jack johnson, and Jason Mraz, and people like that – kind of that beachy, lovey, pop, acoustic sound.” Eventually, he started doing open-mic nights in Boone and became more active with the choir at Putnam Baptist Church in Shelby when he’d come back home for holidays and during the summers.
4. Though he continues to work a day job, he’s gotten progressively more serious about music in recent years. Here are the highlights: He started reaching a wider audience thanks to videos of him singing that he’d post on Vine back when that was a thing. ... He became friends with Grammy Award-nominated R&B singer Anthony Hamilton (also of Charlotte) by total dumb luck, after Hamilton’s brother heard Strom singing in a restroom at a Wild Wings Cafe in Charlotte and made the introduction. ... Strom said Hamilton invited him to L.A. for the Grammys in 2014, and while attending a party met Colbie Caillat and her father Ken, a noted producer of seminal Fleetwood Mac albums like “Rumours.” ... Strom and Ken Caillat hit it off, too, and Caillat signed him to his Sleeping Giant Music Group, which tries to get artists’ songs featured in movies and on TV. ...
Last June, Strom released an EP, titled “#Feelz,” which produced music videos for two singles – “Truth” and “Freedom” – that can be seen on Vevo. ... In terms of gigs, he’s performed at The Fillmore and The Underground (where he opened for pop singer/“American Idol” alum Haley Reinhart), at various bars and clubs, and events like Alive After Five. ... He sang the national anthem at Bojangles’ Coliseum before a Charlotte Checkers game, and did DNCE’s “Cake By the Ocean” at Spectrum Center during a break in the action at a Charlotte Hornets game. ... Strom unsuccessfully auditioned for “American Idol” twice, and did a private audition for “The Voice” a few seasons ago but didn’t make the cut; this time, though, he got through to the blind auditions.
5. He was extremely nervous going into his blind audition. “You try to make it in the music industry for 10 years, and you get this one moment in front of four mega-idol-celebrities in every genre, hundreds of people and producers and cameras, knowing that it’s gonna be aired in front of millions of people. It boils down to this one 90-second moment, where either you can bust through the nerves and do a good enough job to get their attention and get a chair turn, or you get nervous and you’re shaky and nobody turns and you go home. I mean, I’ve been skydiving before, and that just as scary – or more – as going skydiving.”
6. (As we all saw) he was extremely thrilled to get the chair turn – so thrilled, that he did “a quick happy dance.” Where did he learn those moves? “I started learning how to breakdance in high school. I saw it in a movie or something, and I was like, ‘Man, what the heck was that? I gotta teach myself.’ So I started teaching myself the windmill, which is what I did on the stage in the show. Then when I went to college, they happened to have a breakdancing team at Appalachian State University called Urban Legacy. I joined the group and took what little bit of knowledge I had and developed it. (I learned) how to break down the sentence of breakdancing: You start with something simple, then you have your power move, and then you end it with an exclamation point. It’s something that I really enjoyed during college, and although I don’t do it a lot now, I have the muscle memory of some of the cool tricks that I can still bust out.”
(7. By the way, if you’re in love with the guy by now, sorry – he’s taken. Strom is dating Kendall Bruton, a dancer for the Charlotte Hornets.)
8. His thoughts on being Team Blake: “Blake’s amazing. He’s an incredible human being. He’s very loving, gives you big hugs and he’s got humility. Nice and laid-back and talks to you like a normal human being (without acting like) a superstar. It’s awesome to be on his team, man. I seriously connect with him on that Southern-rooted, genuine kind of level.”
9. The Battles will start airing on March 19, but we won’t know exactly which episode he’ll be on. All we know is that when Strom gets his shot, he’ll be ready. “Honestly, my strategy is to continue to be myself, to really take songs and put that Jaron swag on them. To show people that I can make anything my own and I can come into the game as the underdog, getting a one-chair turn, and pick up the heat and show more and more of my voice and passion and movement and energy. And whatever happens, happens. I see life as a path that is set out to be a certain way for you, and if that path is to go one direction, or to win a show, or to not – either way, it’s all set up to lead you to your next big moment in life.”