Diné impresses celebrities, advances to round two of "The Voice"

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK , October 11, 2012

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(Courtesy photo)

Rudy Parris

I t was not difficult to notice Rudy Parris on "The Voice" last week.

With his long black hair, Parris wore a black shirt and blue jeans with a turquoise squash blossom necklace, turquoise bracelets and guitar in hand when he took center stage to sing The Police's "Every Breath You Take."

What resulted is the whirlwind ride Parris is now on.

During the first stage of "The Voice" competition on Oct. 1, also called the blind audition, celebrity music coaches including Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine, sat with their backs facing the contestants and based their decisions solely on what they heard.

If a coach was impressed by the contestants' singing voice, they pushed a button and their singer would be revealed to them. Those selected will be coached by their respective celebrities, who will help them develop their singing voice.

About 45 seconds into Parris' performance, Shelton pushed the button and Parris, who is of Navajo and Hispanic descent, became one of 64 contestants to move on to the second round, also known as the battle phase, of the popular singing competition show on NBC.

Just over a minute into the song, Green pushed the button giving Parris a second option for a coach.

"It was something that I was familiar with, I'm not a new song kind of guy," Parris said in an Oct. 5 telephone interview from his home in Visalia, Calif. "I always thought of it as a very beautiful song."

Parris' version of the song did well on the iTunes music charts following his Oct. 1 performance, ranking in the top 20.

During the battle phase, which started Monday, the coaches pair their own team members against each other to sing the same song together in front of a studio audience. After the vocal face-off, the coach must choose which singers will advance to the final round or the live performance, where the contestants compete against each other during a live broadcast.

The television audience votes to save their favorite singer, leaving the coach to decide who they want to save. In the end, each coach will have one singer left to compete against the other teams' finalist to be named "The Voice." The winner receives the grand prize of a recording contract.

Since the episode was posted on "The Voice" website, people have been commenting about Parris' image – a mixture of country, rock and Native America – which Parris said could work to his advantage.

"I think people just want something different. You get tired of getting fed the same old thing, after a while you want to eat something different," he said.

The online activity includes people commenting that his singing either brought tears to their eyes or gave them goose bumps.

"That's what I want to do. I want to touch people deep in their souls. I want them to be moved by what I do," he said.

Parris, who selected Shelton as his singing coach, decided to try for "The Voice" after talking to his family and to his friend and guitar maker Buddy Blaze.

Parris registered on "The Voice" website and received his audition number and was prepared to stand in line at the auditions in Los Angeles. But a renowned band manager Gary Avila saw a video of Parris singing on YouTube and offered Parris a VIP audition.

"The VIP audition is different than the public audition. There's not so many people and it's a lot faster process," Parris said. "It's pretty cool."

Parris, 46, was born and raised in Visalia, Calif. in the San Joaquin Valley.

His grandfather moved to the area from Roswell, N.M. to work in the valley's farming community.

Parris always wanted to be a musician and started playing the violin in 1976 followed by the guitar in 1979.

His interest in playing the guitar was sparked after listening to the rock band KISS.

"I wanted to be KISS, that's all," he said. "They're like a heavy metal Beatles."

As a child, he lived in a mobile home park. When KISS' album, "Destroyer," was released, Parris and his friends decided to pick a band member then learn that members' musical instrument.

The rest of the guys did not follow through with the plan but Parris went ahead to learn the guitar like KISS guitarist Ace Frehley.

"I, to this day, am an Ace Frehley fan," he said. "Because he is a lead guitar player, I'm a lead guitar player. I love Ace."

Through the years, Parris has opened for music legends Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams Jr., BB King and Bo Didley but he has never been on tour as a solo artist.

"That's the one thing that I'm looking forward to doing," he said about touring.

California remains home for Parris but he has connected with his Navajo fans. He remembers working as a sound engineer for a band that performed in Tuba City, Ariz.

"The doors opened and all the young Navajos came running down the stairs into the auditorium with war cries and I was down there at the bottom, watching them all run down and it brought me to tears," he recalled. "It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

His next visit was during a stop on OzzFest in Albuquerque where he saw Navajos in the audience.

"I've visited and I want to again," he said. "I want to be more involved."

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