Carolina Panthers

Keys are the key to Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart’s next postseason contest, ‘MVP’

Carolina Panthers star Jonathan Stewart will compete against other NFL players in a live TV talent show – CBS’ “MVP: Most Valuable Performer” – Thursday night.
Carolina Panthers star Jonathan Stewart will compete against other NFL players in a live TV talent show – CBS’ “MVP: Most Valuable Performer” – Thursday night. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart no doubt hoped to use his hands to help carry his team farther than the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs.

But his hands will take a more central role in his next postseason competition.

Stewart will play the piano on “MVP: Most Valuable Performer,” a one-hour talent show airing live on CBS on Thursday at 8 p.m. The competition, hosted by actor/rapper LL Cool J, aims to find the NFL player with the most off-the-field talent.

Stewart is one of six finalists – five individuals and a set of twins, all NFL players – that made the cut for the finale from among 32 entries submitted late last year.

Fans were asked to vote online at the Sports Illustrated website from among the submissions. (SI teamed up with CBS and the NFL Players Association for the project.) The website also indicated that only players from teams that didn’t make the Super Bowl could take part in the finals.

Here’s Stewart’s audition video:

Stewart began making music when his mother gave him a keyboard when he was in the second grade, according to the show's website.

Stewart learned to play by ear, without formal music lessons or sheet music. CBS Sports’ Matt Rybaltowski wrote in 2013 that Stewart was able to replay Chris Brown’s 2008 hit “Superhuman” back 30 minutes after hearing it.

“It’s just kind of one of those crazy gifts where you can hear a sound and immediately be able to play it,” Stewart told Rybaltowski.

Stewart now records original music in a home studio.

Teammates have said they listen to Stewart’s music to relieve tension before games and former Panthers receiver Steve Smith owns a few of his CDs.

But for Stewart, an aspiring producer, the connection to music runs deeper. He credits music for much of his on-the-field performance.

“Without music, I wouldn’t have had the focus, discipline and dedication for football,” Stewart told Rybaltowski. “Music is my outlet and refuge. I use it to relax and provide balance after a long, tough game.”

Stewart said he may explore a music career once his NFL playing days end.

But this week, the focus is on becoming the “MVP,” which requires some help from fans.

During the show, celebrity judges will cut the field to three acts, then viewers will vote on CBS.com for the winner.

Stewart posted a video Thursday asking people to vote for him.

Competing against Stewart are:

▪  Brandon Williams (Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle), singing;

▪  Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens, placekicker), opera singing;

▪  Alex Collins (Baltimore Ravens, running back), Irish dancing;

▪  Kevin Zeitler (Cleveland Browns, guard), dog tricks;

▪  The twins, Cody and Jacob Hollister (New England Patriots, wide receiver and tight end, respectively), singing and playing guitar.

And there are two alternates, in case “playing obligations” – which can only mean the Patriots brothers act at this stage – forces a finalist to drop out. Ready to step in are Denver Broncos nose tackle Domata Peko on guitar or Arizona Cardinals defensive end Robert Nkemdiche on saxophone.

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