Marietta-based street musician Alex Guthrie, who received huge exposure in 2017 being surprised by Jennifer Hudson during an American Family Insurance ad, joined Team Kelly Clarkson on "The Voice" season 17 debut Monday evening.
The R&B singer sang Al Green's "Love & Happiness" for the coaches. Nobody pressed the button until late when Clarkson turned her chair. Gwen Stefani also chose to compete for Guthrie's attention just as he was finishing his final note.
“I know how to work with someone like you,” Stefani said during her sale’s pitch. “Taking the things you love and trying to cross pollinate it. I feel like I’ve done that my whole career... I feel like I could help you organize it a bit more.”
Clarkson: “The fact it felt like a jam session was my favorite part because what you want to do on a show like this is build. You don’t want to blow it all on the first thing. You show that you’re super talented. You have such a soulful vibe, that’s so cool and chill. I would love to be your coach!”
Guthrie noted that he opened for Clarkson at a Star 94.1 Christmas concert at the Roxy in December, 2017 though he didn’t get to meet her.
“I got to go with you,” he said to Clarkson.
In an interview today, Guthrie said he wasn’t that familiar with Stefani’s work so it was easy for him to choose Clarkson.
Last year, 25-year-old Guthrie said he was caught totally off guard by Hudson’s appearance in the ad that has aired thousands of times and been seen by millions.
The exposure helped him book more gigs and travel the country as a full-time musician for the first time. His previous job to pay the bills as a real estate photography has been shelved. “I can now say photography is my hobby and music is my job,” he said.
He also got to meet some great musicians such as John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band, who ultimately produced music with Guthrie. "We've developed a real friendship," he said.
And he said he’s become more focused musically: “Before the commercial, I was going aimlessly doing music, taking any opportunity. Now I know who I am more as an artist. I tap more into the soul/pop/R&B side of things. I am sure I was influenced by JHud.”
Hudson, while on set of the commercial, recommended Guthrie try out for “The Voice.” He hesitated but eventually decided to go for it. Hudson has been a coach on the show in the past but not this season. In a way, he’s relieved because “it’s nice to avoid quasi-nepotism.”
The song choice, he said, was totally him. "Love and Happiness" was comparable to his Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" he did for American Family Insurance. He possesses a cool, easy-going vibe. "It's a staple of my origins," Guthrie said. "It's the type of song every band in the Atlanta bar scene does, a standard. I wanted to stick to my roots."
Naturally, he was thrilled to have Clarkson turn her chair but he said he might have taken more vocal chances to ensure an earlier turn. “I took a safer approach and it still worked out,” he said.
And why did he not meet Clarkson at the Star 94.1 concert? He said he didn't want to barge in on her in her dressing room, knowing how some artists like peace and quiet before they perform. So he waited for an "organic" meeting that ultimately didn't happen. But he got to hear her live and was astonished how great she sounded in person. A
Now, he will have actual quality one-on-one time with the pop star and talk-show host.
Guthrie has enjoyed the ride so far. He’s done dive bars in front of five people and jammed before 1,500 people at the Milwaukee SummerFest. He’s been a headliner at the Arby’s Foundation Dream Big event. He’s sung the National Anthem at a Braves game. He hopes his career just keeps developing and he can create some great music down the road.
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.