As a national television audience watched Jared Herzog turn three judges' chairs Monday night on "The Voice," viewers had no idea that the performance was actually his sixth attempt to nab a place on reality TV.
And even though he came this close to skipping this chance at "The Voice," perseverance won out and the sixth time was the charm.
In a phone interview this week, Herzog revealed this was his second audition for "The Voice," but he had also tried out four times for other reality talent shows, whose names he preferred not to disclose.
His first "Voice" audition was during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, the 21-year-old Lee University senior says. He and Chloe Hamlin, a member of Voices of Lee, auditioned as a duo, but did not receive a callback.
"You'll want to know her name in the future because she is going to be something big one day," he predicts of his friend.
Herzog, who came to Lee from Niceville, Florida, on an athletics scholarship and runs cross-country, originally declared as a music major and was a member of Lee's Choral Union. But the time demands of sports and music conflicted, forcing him to choose the one paying his tuition.
"I decided I didn't need to be a music major in order to be engaged in music activities on campus. I have become involved with Lee Worship and different ministries in the (Cleveland) area," he says.
This time around, "The Voice" audition process began at the urging of friends who knew the power of his rich baritone voice. A friend visiting Herzog from out of town saw the national open call for NBC's show.
"He said, 'Tonight is the last night to sign up. If you don't sign up tonight, you won't be able to. Just sign up and think about it.' So I signed up, but I still wasn't going to do it," Herzog says. "But he told my girlfriend, Cree (Kilpatrick)."
Kilpatrick, from Augusta, Georgia, is a member of Lee's women's soccer team. As viewers learned Monday night, she is a huge fan of "The Voice" and of judge Blake Shelton.
Although the couple had previously agreed not to exchange Valentine's gifts, she asked Herzog to audition as her gift.
"I was originally hesitant. I said I'd tried for this and other shows and kept getting told no. I said I'd done this before, that a lot of great singers get told no and that there was a slim-to-none chance that I'd get a callback," Herzog recalls.
“The Voice” airs on NBC at 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. Battle rounds start in the second hour of Monday night’s episode, continuing Tuesday.
"But she was persistent. She really wanted me to go. Ultimately, I wanted to make her happy. I said I'd go in exchange for a steak dinner," he laughs.
So there he was singing "Speechless" by Dan + Shay on Monday night. Then he watched in amazement as three of the biggest names in the music business — John Legend, Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton — fought over him, trying to lure him to their teams.
"Honestly, I sort of blacked out. I got off the stage after it was all over, and I couldn't recall half the things said. I was really left speechless. I was in disbelief.
"I really didn't believe in myself too much. But this entire journey has shown God's faithfulness to me. I was left in utter disbelief saying, 'Thank you, Jesus.' They all told me I was worthy to be on a team, and that meant the world to me."
Shelton told the singer that when he heard the Dan + Shay ballad, he thought maybe he was a country singer. But it didn't matter because great singers could sing anything.
Legend praised the baritone's range and versatility.
Stefani told him she only had one spot on her team, which she had been saving for a female. But when she heard his voice, she'd turned her chair.
Then she added, "You pick me, you get Blake; two for one."
"You pick me, you get Chrissy," countered Legend, referring to wife Chrissy Teigen. Then he jokingly threw in that she'd cook him dinner.
"If I'm being honest, Gwen almost got me with 'her last spot on her team and she turned for me.' I think John's reputation preceded him over anything he had to say. I've always been so impressed by his talent and knowledge of music. I'd go with him for the complete and utter respect I have for him," says the Lee singer.
While pretaped blind auditions of "The Voice," have been airing, Herzog has been on campus this semester, acting like nothing out of the ordinary had happened before Monday night's reveal. But this week he's been stopped on campus and congratulated by everyone from students to Phil Cook, Lee's vice president for enrollment, and Brian Conn, Lee's director of public relations.
"A few have thanked me just for mentioning Lee. But there are dozens of kids at that university who have the talent to be on a show like this. They turn out incredible musicians. People come to Lee because there is something so exceptional about that campus when it comes to music talent."
He has changed his major to marketing, he says, to learn how to market himself as a musician as well as a social-media influencer.
But he's still waiting for a dinner invite from the Legends.
"I want to start a hashtag called 'Where is Jared's dinner?' That would be pretty neat," he laughs.
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.