Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart introduced his piano skills to a national television audience Thursday night with the Adele song “Hello.”
Stewart was among six NFL players performing their lesser-known off-the-field skills on the CBS talent competition “MVP: Most Valuable Performer.” He made the final cut, but another player took home the top honors.
Stewart, accompanied by three backup singers who hummed along in the background, took a mostly instrumental route for his performance.
Three celebrity judges pared the performers down to a final three. “Hello” carried the Panthers running back into this elite trio along with Baltimore Ravens placekicker Justin Tucker and Cleveland Browns guard Kevin Zeitler.
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Stewart was the first of the final three named by the celebrity judges, Brandon Marshall (New York Giants wide receiver), Katharine McPhee (“Smash” and “Scorpion” actress and recording artist) and Maz Jobrani (”Superior Donuts” actor and comedian).
“That was a beautiful rendition of ‘Hello,’ ” Jobrani said about Stewart’s performance. “Halfway through, I felt I was in a deep-tissue massage.”
Marshall offered a positive review as well, but joked: “I was disappointed Adele didn’t come out.”
“You let us in on your soft fuzzy side and women love that. … You’re a tough, tough man and we love that,” said McPhee, a talent-show veteran herself as the runner-up of Season 5 of “American Idol.” (To jog the memory, Taylor Hicks won that year, and North Carolinians Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington also made the top 10.)
Here’s a clip of Stewart’s performance from CBS’ Twitter feed:
Stewart has a longtime passion for music, but he has never had formal piano lessons and plays by ear.
“It’s always been something that I play just to have an escape,” Stewart, who started teaching himself to play after his mom bought him a keyboard in elementary school, told the Observer earlier this week.
One of his first purchases as a Panthers rookie was a Steinway baby grand he calls “Beauty.” His typical live audience includes a few teammates in training camp, no doubt far fewer than the number of TV viewers who saw him play Thursday on “MVP.”
AND THE WINNER IS ...
After the judges picked the final three, it was up to the viewers, who voted online for the winner. Tucker took home top honors, which included a $50,000 prize he said he plans to donate to the Baltimore School of the Arts.
Tucker left the crowd in awe with an emotional rendition of “Ave Maria,” in a style that evoked memories of famed opera star Luciano Pavarotti.
Here’s a clip of Tucker’s impressive, and winning, performance:
Zeitler’s rescue dog Amber did all the heavy lifting and fetching, reeling in a series of passes from Zeitler, for their act. Zeitler rewarded her with treats, leading Marshall to lament that no one ever gave him any treats for any of his catches. (Giants fans take note.) Amber first caught Zeitler’s attention when she dropped a football at his feet as a shelter puppy.
The other finalists included two of Tucker’s Ravens teammates. Brandon Williams sang Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like,” while Alex Collins changed things up with Irish dancing. Denver Broncos defensive tackle Domata Peko performed Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” a song he used to woo his wife.
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