Big Voices from Small Towns
Music-based reality show tells us a lot about how small towns support their own.
I have a secret, and I’m going to let you in on it. This one little, easy tidbit will make you famous. Your hometown will make flags with your face on them and plant them around town. Or, maybe better, they’ll make a billboard with your face on it and fly it high above the street. The school you attend will make signs of support. Or, possibly the best, they’ll name a whole month in your honor.
The secret? Be a small-town youth who makes the finals of NBC’s “The Voice.”
See? Told you it was easy.
Tonight’s “The Voice,” in which contestants perform singing battles against each other in hopes of becoming an American pop icon, will start whittling down hopefuls from the final 10. For Yonder readers who will need a dog in the fight in order to get into it (I’m with you), four of the 10 contestants (Jordan Smith, Shelby Brown, Braiden Sunshine, and Emily Ann Roberts) are from small towns. That’s a fairly disproportionate split if you think about how the country as a whole is divied up.
If there is any actual news value in this story, and there may not be, honestly, it’s that small towns know how to celebrate their own.
The Judge Executive of Harlan, Kentucky, declared November “Jordan Smith Month,” telling the crowd at the elementary school Jordan attended as a child that the singer “has served as a role model to the youth of Harlan County and beyond through the sharing of his musical talent.” Harlan is a mountain town of around 1,700 people and is best known for being the town where a popular gothic police series was set. Alright, Harlan has a lot more going for it than a fictional TV show. Coal mining, beautiful scenery, a long history of social and labor justice work. Some of you may blame me for reducing an entire community to a pop culture reference, but it was Justified.
Elberta, Alabama, is home to Shelby Brown, who won a spot on the show with a rousing version of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ “Stars.” All four judges punched their buttons nearly simultaneously. Elberta, not “Alberta” as judge/musician/alleged philanderer Blake Shelton heard Brown say, a town of 1,500, is half an hour north of popular vacation destination and trinket emporium Gulf Shores. The city council of Elberta recently voted to use some of the city’s billboard space to honor the 16-year-old singer. The billboard wishes Shelby good luck and refers to Shelton’s misunderstanding.
You know the movie where the nerdy girl takes off her glasses and musses up her tightly-pinned hair and is transformed into a vixen? Well that’s seems to be the plotline of Lyme, Connecticut’s Braiden Sunshine (real name, I suppose). Starting out with dark, curly hair and dark-framed glasses, coach Gwen Stefani made the choice to, you may have guessed it, take off the glasses and slick down the hair. Now he’s treading into teen heartthrob territory. Speaking of territory, Sunshine hails from the great state of Connecticut and, more specifically, from the now-infamous Lyme, Connecticut. Located near the southeastern border of the state, the 2,400-person Lyme is the namesake for super unpleasant Lyme disease. The community is on-board with Braiden and are showing their support with banners and flags bearing his heartthrobbing likeness.
East Tennessee rounds out the geographic list of hometowns for the four small town finalists. Emily Ann Roberts is a 16-year-old country singer from Karns, an unincorporated community just outside Knoxville. It’s what the U.S. Board on Geographic Names likes to call a “populated area.” Roberts won her spot on the show singing Lee Ann Womack’s guilty-pleasure country song “I Hope You Dance.” Roberts sang the hymn “In the Garden” later in the contest. One local TV report caller her performance “angelic.” Who wants unbiased media all the time, anyway?
I’d wager that whoever first condescendingly called someone a “big fish in a little pond” never had an auditorium full of classmates rallying for them to make it or for a local church to hold a bake sale to fund a dream.
Maybe the best thing about living in a little pond is that it’s easier to be a big fish, if only for a bit. Are you working real hard to support your family? People will know it. Did you win the county spelling bee? People will know it. Communities tend to get behind big fish, no matter how small the pond.
The audience has a chance to get behind their small-town hero, too, by voting for their favorite contestant tonight as the show continues to cull finalists in search of a winner.
Special Update: This just in. The small town four are still in after last night’s elimination round. Korin Bukowski and Braiden Sunshine, both on Team Gwen, battled it out for the #9 spot, and Braiden eeked out the win. That is all.