Last Tuesday, 15 year-old Chance Peña walked out onto NBC's The Voice stage for a blind audition in front of four celebrity coaches. To say the lanky Tyler, Texas native was nervous would be an understatement. But midway through his cover of "I See Fire" by Ed Sheerhan, celebrity coach Adam Levine had hit the almighty "I Want You" and it was clear that his excitement was hard to contain.
Fast forward to the end of his performance and the three remaining coaches were shocked to see the face to match the voice. Not only that, but Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams were kicking themselves for not turning around sooner. One thing was for sure though: This young Texan is going to give the rest of The Voice's Season 9 contestants a run for their money.
The moment Peña finished his song and the remaining coaches turned around, Levine stood up, threw his hands in the air and addressed the other coaches. “You guys screwed up so badly. In the history of The Voice screwing up badly files, you guys screwed the pooch," he explained. To which Gwen Stefani responded, “Oh my god! Wow! I so did. I totally agree that I did." Stefani added, “Sometimes Adam gets really dumb. I’ll just steal you.”
Looking back on the audition, Peña remembers being one big ball of nerves just hoping it would all work out. "It was crazy. I remember they opened the doors and I just walked out there. I'm walking up on stage and I don't hear anything. It's just me thinking, 'I'm really here. Doing this now.' And when I got off stage my legs were still shaking."
But Peña's road to stardom didn't just begin last week; he's been fascinated with music ever since picking up a little Mexican guitar at the age of 18 months. But he didn't started legitimately playing the guitar until he was 8 years old. And by 11 years old, he'd begun writing his own songs and performing at local bars and barbecue joints. These days he rarely puts down his not-so-little guitar and has even branched out to playing the banjo, the ukulele and even the cajón. (What even is a cajón? I looked it up and it's a box-shaped percussion instrument from Peru. Bonus point to Peña for that one.)
While most kids his age are blaring Nicki Minaj or One Direction, Peña cites Hudson Taylor, the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons as his biggest musical influences — thanks in part to another local musician, Matt Magill of the Magill's. "Matt Magill really got me into performing and into folk music, in general," Peña says. "I remember when I was 11 I started working with him and he kind of sculpted me into who I am, musically, today."
And who he is today is an up and coming powerhouse of a folk-rocker. Admittedly, Peña was nervous during the audition, and it was mildly evident with some initial shakiness in his voice, but one could easily chalk that up to nerves associated to performing in front of your heroes. Taking a listen to some of his original tracks on his Soundcloud page, his East Texas twang immediately evokes thoughts of his favorite Mumford & Sons or even folk rock legends Old Crow Medicine Show. His voice is deep, booming and saturated with a maturity and depth that is rarely found in an artist of his age.
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Drive and passion of this level is not surprising, considering the fact that Peña's parents, Cune and Michelle Peña, are entrepreneurs themselves. The couple ran Premier Fitness in Tyler for many years, before opening up the city's first CrossFit gym in 2009. And even though Peña openly admits that he's not as passionate about fitness as his parents are, that has never stopped them from encouraging and supporting him and their other two children, Jacob and Reagan, to pursue their dreams. Peña's dad, Cune, has even become the honorary "unpaid roadie," chauffeuring him to and from gigs, hauling Peña's gear around and setting up for him.
Still maintaining his humbleness, Peña says that his fellow Voice contestants are all incredibly supportive and have become like family to him — even to the point of having a hard time viewing the show as a competition. "It's kind of hard to look at it as a competition because we're all so close. Especially since we've been with each other pretty much all summer in the same hotel." Peña goes on to say, "But I think that my biggest competition, even though he's one of my best friends, is Jordan [Smith]. Because his voice — I've never heard anybody like him. Like, if he had his own album out on iTunes, he'd be my favorite."
For now, Peña has transitioned to homeschooling in an effort to help him focus on his school work, his music career and his family. He's looking to the future and hopes to put out an EP or full-length album after he finishes with The Voice. And with such a solid support system in place, the musical and songwriting skills and, as Blake Shelton put it, the looks of "the cover of one of those clothing catalogues," Peña has all of the makings of a successful artist. And we couldn't be more excited to watch him represent #TeamAdam and the great state of Texas.