Luke Wade isn't the only North Texas contestant on the new season of NBC's The Voice. No, competing alongside him is Taylor Phelan, who hails from Dallas. And the two have more in common than just geography: They've both chosen to work Pharrell Williams on the show. But for Phelan, making it onto the network reality show was a watershed moment as a musician.
"It was a very encouraging moment," says Taylor, when we caught up with him at the Truck Yard in Lower Greenville. He had prepared himself for an adverse outcome, for the possibility that nobody would turn around. "I realized that all the years' worth of effort ...was really being acknowledged in that moment. Maybe this is something I'm supposed to do."
While Wade, a Fort Worth native, is well known around the Metroplex, Phelan is best known in the Chicago music scene. But make no mistake: While the bulk of Taylor's music career has been in the Windy city, he is definitely a local.
"I was originally from Dallas," Taylor confirms. "I grew up all over the city. I lived in Duncanville, Oak Cliff, Lancaster, Cedar Hill when I was growing up. We moved to Sherman my freshman year of high school."
Being from a church going clan, he took a job in church music in Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. It did not take long to figure out that musically he was headed in a different direction.
"I tried my hand at becoming a church rock star for a while," he says. "I grew up around church. I've got a bunch of music directors [in the family]. I did that for a year and a half or so, and I realized that I'm just nor wired for church staff work."
Phelan moved to Chicago proper and formed an indie band called the Canes. "I love Chicago culture," Phelan says. "I love the music scene, I love the bars, I love the restaurants, I love living downtown. Probably a lot of the reason I left the church was my dream to move downtown -- to actually be in Chicago and start a band there."
However, when Phelan and his wife Nikki had a baby, the music business took a back seat. The new family moved back home to be near family. "Culturally there are some things that are really valuable here," he explains, "especially raising a family. My daughter's a year and a half. There are so many things about Dallas that are just as good as Chicago; they're just different."
Back in Dallas, Taylor tried to put the music business behind him. It was Nikki who would not let him quit. He made any argument he could to convince himself that he was done with music, and while he was trying to come to terms with family life, she was still encouraging him to follow his dreams. It was that determination that got him on The Voice.
"I think I was getting to the point where I was starting to give up, and just be okay with it," he admits. "I think that Nikki had run out of ways to encourage me. Her last push was, 'Why don't you try out for this?'"
The couple had long been fans of the show, and auditioning seemed a risk-free way to take one last shot at it. A dedicated family man might not have time for long nights with the band, but an audition couldn't hurt. The experience was everything they could have dreamed it would be.
"I liked the overall vibe and feel and tone of the show," Phelan says. "Now being a part of it, it's the same: That humble, fair, all-inclusive vibe that the show has. They're not poking fun at anyone. The producers are great; everybody is encouraging and super supportive. It's been a really amazing experience behind the scene."
"I've made some really amazing friends," Phelan adds, referring to his fellow contestants. "I'm excited to support the other artists on the show, and to just be a part of The Voice family."
Now, just a few weeks after the first airing of the show, things are already starting to change. Nikki has been recognized in public and treated like a celebrity at the local pharmacy, and Taylor is starting to have those rock 'n' roll dreams once again.
"I think the thing that I'm really after is to share my story, share my life," Phelan says. "I think that my wife and I have had a really interesting, redemptive story. I hope for this to turn into a music career, I hope that I can write songs, and play and connect with people and travel, and share my gift of music with people. All of the things I was trying to do before. "
Despite his love for his old band and bandmates, Phelan is working on a new project, and a new band is in the works. Like before, it will be indie music.
"I'm just an indie rock guy at heart," says Taylor. "I think that that's what I'll put out. I want to write and produce for other people. But for me, personally, the type of record that I'd be putting out would be an indie rock record."
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