Since his time as a contestant on the seventh season of “The Voice,” Luke Wade has released two albums, a several singles and built his audience by touring in select cities around the country. But he has also returned to the platform that launched him into stardom in 2014, this time working in casting to create the next batch of “The Voice” contestants.
“Having been on the other side of that, I feel like that’s definitely one place I excel,” Wade tells Variety.
After all, Wade knows the audition process intimately from a contestant’s point of view. He knows how nerve-wracking it can feel to be up on the stage, staring at the backs of the coaches’ chairs, hoping at least one will turn around. To put the new contestants at ease and provide them energy off of which to feed, Wade now does “everything from standing up on my chair and dancing behind the desk” to just “giving them a hug and telling them it’s gonna be OK.”
The most important thing Wade wants to impart on the new crop of contestants, he says, is to how to use all of the emotions they are feeling and push them into the performance.
“At the end of the day it’s not about singing notes, it’s about singing songs,” he says. “I find myself saying in rooms, ‘Congratulations, your voice is an instrument. You should be very proud of yourself. I’m very proud of you. The next step is to figure out who you are and what you’re singing about, and then work on making people feel that.’”
Here, Wade talks with Variety about making the transition from contestant to the casting team, what he looks for in a blind audition and how he’s balancing his own music career with the demands of the NBC reality show, which returns Sept. 24.
How did you make the switch from contestant to casting? Did you apply or did they approach you?
It really happened organically. The team here at McNulty [Casting], they do a great job with treating the contestants with kindness and respect and they communicate really well, and it just kind of grew into a friendship. … I started working with the casting team on doing some open call events…and then Michelle [McNulty] would call me up and just get me to talk to contestants about the process. … [She] would say, “Talk to them honestly about your experience.” I did that for a number of contestants and was kind of hesitant to jump on board, and then…she asked if I knew someone who might need a casting job, and I said, “Well, I’m touring a lot right now but if that comes up again ask me.” So she did [and] I’ve been having a lot of fun being a part of this team.
What is your specific role in the casting process?
It’s all hands on deck here. We all actively look for fantastic talent, we all go to the open call auditions, and then there’s the callbacks after the open call where we are listening to the best of the best from these open calls where thousands of singers come. So sometimes I’m one of the people who gets the run of the room and just helps get the most out of the singers, because sometimes they come in and they’re really nervous. [I’ll do] whatever it takes to get the best out of someone in a room so they have the best opportunity to put their foot forward in the process and show the next person down the chain what we all see.
What are you personally is looking for in a contestant?
I’ll tell you what I tell the people in the room, and that’s that it’s not about being good or bad, it’s just about having the right moment at the right time. I just have to go off how I react to the performance. … There’s people I know are really great singers, [but] if I’m not having an emotional reaction to it, then I just have to trust my gut. And there’s people who’ll be flat some of the time, or they’ll not be having the best performance, but I’ll be having an emotional connection with them in that moment.
How has your personal experience on the show affected how you handle auditions?
I feel like everyone here approaches the auditions from a very kind and empathetic place. I would say for me, I just feel it in my bones what they’re feeling. The most important thing for anyone who’s auditioning is believing that they deserve that moment and believing that they belong in that room. Anything I can do to pump someone up and make them believe in themselves in that moment is something I’m going to throw every ounce of myself at. Because I know that’s almost always the difference between having talent in that room and having talent in front of America — believing in yourself. The most nervous I was the entire time was that initial audition where I sang for Michelle. I tripped on the way in, I was just shaking, and I was terrified. And it was just because I took the idea of expecting the worst too far, where I didn’t just suspect the worst, I suspected that I wasn’t good enough. … [It’s] super important to just have that belief when you walk through those doors.
How do contestants react to seeing you, knowing you’ve been through the process, too?
I think it allows them to be excited more than nervous, you know? Because it’s everyone’s first time going into the situation and if you have someone who’s been there telling you what to expect…you can let go and trust the process a little more and give it everything you have, as opposed to being reserved and scared that you’ll be misrepresented. … I am definitely able to help put them at ease whenever they start and hopefully get more of what they have to offer.
Have you bonded with any of the new contestants over shared experiences from your own time on “The Voice”? Do you ever tell them stories about your experience?
We call it “The Voice” family. At this point, there have been many teams. There’s a lot of people that have been through the process, and it does kind of become a fraternity of sorts. Everybody who’s been on the show, we end up connecting with each other, and we help each other out. And so being part of the casting process doesn’t exactly change that: You feel a kindred-ness with people who are on the show. I make myself available to help. Anything I can do to make this something that is really great for them that they’ll never forget. If that involves telling them something that I did that worked well, then 100% [that is what I do].
Is there a limit to what you can tell them?
Not really, we’re honest and open. … That’s the awesome thing about the show and “The Voice” in general — from top to bottom it focuses on representing people accurately in a way that they can leave the show proud of. … Whatever it takes to help people put their best foot forward, we want to do that…because sometimes they’ll just sing in their rooms and they’ll just sing whenever they do auditions, so to get over the nerves, get out there in front of an audience and sing songs, we’ve started this thing called “The Voice” Casting Open Mic. The idea is to do these things all over the country, but as of right now we’re doing them in Los Angeles on the second Monday of every month [at Hotel Cafe]. … We allow a number of artists to walk in and perform, but the cast shows up, and it’s for would-be contestants on the show to get to kind of sharpen their acts, so that there’s more people that can make the most of coming in and auditioning.
Is it only for people involved in the show or is open to all?
Anyone can do it. … We want it to be something that’s really inclusive [for people] who don’t have opportunities to play out, who might have a great voice or great songs or just making Instagram videos or YouTube videos. [It’s] for them to really get out and see what performing on a stage feels like. We have a house band, and so they’ll send me their songs whether they’re covers or originals, so I send them to the house band and the band learns their songs. … We [also] feature one former “Voice” contestant every show. So after they leave and become successful independent artists that are releasing albums, it’s a place for them to come and promote what they’re doing after the show as well. It’s also an opportunity for people who are thinking about doing the show or are there to hone their skills to talk to the casting team and also talk to former contestants about what their experience was.
How do you balance your time working in casting on the show with working on your own music?
One of the things that I’ve learned throughout my musical career is that one of the most important things is finding a balance. Whenever I’m part of the casting process in the casting world, I’m in an office on my computer so it allowed me to focus on the business side of the music. … It’s really great to have this as a part of the overall balance…working with artists and seeing the way they need to be nurtured and the strengths and weaknesses of people who are just kind of starting out. It’s just super valuable in terms of me seeing where I’ve been and what to do next, what’s the next smart right thing for me in my career.
Are you currently working on another album?
I’m planning on releasing something later, probably spring of next year. … I’m launching a project called LAWS, which stands for Lucas Anthony Wade Songs…and then the next Luke Wade record will come out in the spring. So by working here I’ve been able to not only juggle my career with this job, but also like build these other brands essentially and other projects…which I think is kind of the way that the industry is moving — to just make as much content as you can and figure out a place for it where people want it.