Last week, America was introduced to Austin Jenckes, as he performed Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man" on the premiere of NBC's "The Voice." But for viewers from Bellingham to Olympia, his voice and smile were familiar -- Jenckes, a Washington native, spent years performing up and down the West Coast. In the next few weeks, he's hoping to have another opportunity to wow the judges and work on his craft, all with the support of the many fans he's found, both here and across the country.
Jenckes, who grew up "kind of all over the Snoqualmie Valley" and graduated from Western Washington University in Bellingham, found a niche performing in clubs and bars around the Seattle area. But when a pastor at the church where he and his band were practicing put him in touch with a manager in Nashville, Jenckes and his girlfriend decided to take the plunge and move to work on both making music and writing music, a pragmatic choice for a musician.
"Touring and performing as an artist is my first love, but there's a lot of longevity in songwriting. You can either have other people singe your songs, or you can do well with your own songs -- so that was my goal."
But finding work as a musician in such a city so brimming musicians hoping for a big break was harder than expected, but Jenckes took it in stride.
"I had to get a day job in a wearhouse, driving a forklift," Jenckes explained, "and that was a really big turning point."
"For about a year and half or two years, I was used to just playing music for work. In Seattle, I have a lot of great friends and family and fans. I played shows for years. Everyone was so excited and supportive, but it's not like I moved here and all of a sudden, I was a rock star. Nashville is more competitive, and I had to take a step back and really work and pay the bills. So that was a learning experience."
It was during that time, in Decemeber of last year, that he decided to try out for "The Voice," which changed everything.
"I got an executive call back, and I had to take a few days off work. I flew out to LA, and that was kind of when that all started. I realized I was going to have the opportunity, I left my job and started focusing on that."
Though, as viewers saw on the show, Jenckes still had to pick up other jobs, including "giving scooter tours," he explained with a laugh.
"When I look back on that year of being in Nashville before 'The Voice,' I kind of just see my time to realize what exactly I wanted, and what I was willing to sacrifice to do it," says Jenckes.
Last week, Jenckes' blind audition aired, which showed two judges -- R&B artist CeeLo Green and country music star Blake Shelton -- both turning arond to select him for their team. But it was Shelton that Jenckes wanted to work with.
"I chose Blake because I felt like I could relate to him both musically and professionally. He seems like someone I can confide in over the course of my musical career -- it really is an opportunity to grow as an artist."
For Jenckes, it's never been about getting famous -- it's been about connecting with more people.
"Through those little struggles, I feel like I really gained a perspective of what my purpose is, which is sharing music that evokes emotion and being someone who writes songs that are for everybody," says Jenckes.
"My goal is to make music that everybody can relate to."
And don't assume that just because he's on the show, he doesn't have time to do the work himself.
"I've spent hours a day on Facebook and Twitter, trying to connect with and talk to people who heard my audition," says Jenckes, who has been rapidly gaining new followers, in addition to keeping up with fans from his Seattle days.
"I have a good fanbase, and I just want to grow that and make sure everyone feels heard."
Jenckes says he also understands that "The Voice" is an opportunity, not a sure thing.
"I've been thinking a lot about how to handle that and how to grow with my participation with the show...I think a lot of people feel like they're going to be a star, and I just don't feel that way. I feel like it's a huge opportunity, and if i can really put the time into reaching out to people and gain a fan base, rather than just a small glimpse, that's what I'm looking forward to. "
Catch "The Voice" tonight on NBC at 8pm. For more information, check out The Voice's website.