The Voice's Nicholas David on 'Over the Rainbow,' Clashes With Cee Lo and the Power of '70s Music

nicholas david cee loNicholas David’s approach to song selection on Season 3 of The Voice may have been a little different from that of his fellow contestants.

“I never looked at this experience like it was a competition,” says the Minnesota soul man. “I trust in the Spirit and play from my heart. When we live in our minds, there’s division: Race, religion, creed, political beliefs and all that. But I truly feel when you live from your heart, it’s like a truth that connects us all, and we’re able to breathe a deeper breath where everybody is.”

Nicholas’ freedom to “never really worry about what people will think about anything” might make for an odd juxtaposition with fans’ obsession over the iTunes sales and telephone voting that result in the show’s weekly eliminations, but it worked out pretty well in the end. Nicholas made it all the way to the season finale, and ended up finishing third behind Cassadee Pope and Terry McDermott.

TVLine caught up with him to talk about his approach to song rearrangement, his penchant for covering tunes from the ’60s and ’70s, and the creative differences he had with mentor Cee Lo Green during the Season 3 semifinals.

TVLINE | We know from the show that you were a working musician with your band The Feelin’ before you auditioned for The Voice. Did you have any hesitation about making the leap from that world and into a reality singing competition?
With The Feelin, I literally wouldn’t do any covers. I pride myself in always trying to focus on personal music and being an individual instead of copying others. I always just kind of looked at [reality singing] shows like they were cool and they help to get your music out there, but it never seemed like something that I would do. I always thought I was more of an acquired taste. But what was neat was that once I realized I had this opportunity, my reservations and speculations about pop music in general started to fade away. I was like, “Whoa!” I listen to classical music and jazz and whatnot, but a buddy of mine who plays in the band Paper Bird, he’s like, “Dude, you’ve got to check out Fleet Foxes or Mumford and Sons and Head and the Heart and Emma Ward and all these other bands. I just started to have a musical renaissance. Even with pop music, I was like “I might not agree with the content of this but I like the melody or I like the rhythmic placement of the vocals or some of the chords that they used in it.” It kind of just broke down all the walls of division. I just came to the conclusion that music is music, all music.

TVLINE | I loved your performance in the Battle Rounds against Todd Kessler, when you guys sang “She’s Gone.” That said, you strike me as the kind of person who, on a visceral level, probably does not think of music as a competitive sport. Was that a weird experience for you?
Yeah. It was interesting, I became very, very close with Todd, and we were like, “Dude, we’re not battling each other. Let’s just sing together. Let’s just do a duet.” I think that came across, and even in some social-media boards, some people even said “that’s a duet!” But it was hard, even throughout the show. I’ve always said to people I’ve never looked at it like a competition. I looked at it like an experience to be experienced, an opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to get your music out there and to play and sing with such a colorful cast of characters and a world-class band in front of the coaches and the mentors. It’s truly just such a blessing.

TVLINE | Let’s talk about “Lean On Me,” because that was obviously a breakout moment for you. What was it like to have Bill Withers respond so positively that he wanted to come and meet you the following week?
I really loved it that I was finally able to play the piano and show not just my vocal ability but my musicianship — to the point where it moved the creator of the song. That, again, was probably one of the top moments of my experience on the show. I’ll never forget that for the rest of my life. When he came into the room, my knees were shaking a little bit and then my ears and heart were just wide open to just receive his wisdom and his information. He’s like an elder of the tribe, so to speak.

TVLINE | Looking back over the course of the season, if you had had an opportunity to redo a performance, what would it be?
I’d like another go at “Over the Rainbow,” because I was very emotional during that one. I saw a silhouette of my aunt and uncle and my mom and dad and my gal in the audience, and I got really choked up before I started to play that. Not that it wasn’t strong, but I was fighting back tears just because it was really emotional. I’m so grateful for every adventure on that show, like every twist and turn. It led me to where I am now and it was truly the experience of a lifetime. A few hours after I got home [to Minnesota], I was walking in the snow, and watching my shoes, and thinking, “Just a couple hours ago, I was on stage looking at those shoes and looking up and seeing Smokey Robinson. Now these shoes are walking in my house.” It’s like “Thank you, God, for this adventure.”

TVLINE | That has to be surreal. To follow up on “Over the Rainbow,” that’s a song everyone knows. How do you approach reinventing it?
Well, when I was thinking about doing that song, I had a few other ones I was debating over as well. I believe we’re always in a dialogue with Spirit, which is why I look and listen for signs. The phone rang and it was my mom, and “Over the Rainbow” is her favorite song, and I was like, “Okay, I hear you.” So I was laying down getting ready to go to bed, not really knowing how to approach it, and then I heard a piano line in my head and my heart was singing it and I was like, “Oh my gosh!” I got right up and got a key to the rehearsal room, which is where I started playing that line, and everything else unfolded from there. To answer your question, I feel like I just remain open and I listen. Sometimes it comes and sometimes it doesn’t, but thankfully it came that night, because that was the night before we were getting together with the band to rehearse. The idea was to play some of those jazzier chords, to take the beautiful chords that were already there and just spice them up a little bit. Then with that, I kind of heard the rhythm — [sings] someday I wish upon a star — with a driving, pounding rhythm. That was pretty cool.

TVLINE | For Top 4 Week, after you did “You Are So Beautiful,” Cee Lo alluded on air to some disagreement that you guys had had, but didn’t get specific. What creative differences did you have that week, and how did you work through them?
I originally wanted to take a joyful approach to “You Are So Beautiful.” With the band, we had worked up a D’Angelo-type sounding groove and some jazzier chords over it. But CeeLo was suggesting that we strip it down. I’d never really had a really vulnerable moment on the show. He felt that that would beam out to a wider audience as opposed to the jazzy route, which would be more like an acquired taste. Since he’s my coach and we have a love and respect for each other, I listened to him. I was like, “All right, man. You obviously know what you’re talking about. You’ve had a lot of commercial success, so let’s give it a shot.” And it paid off.

TVLINE | With the exception of “Put Your Records On,” pretty much all the songs you covered in Season 3 were from the ’60s or ’70s. Was there a reason you didn’t gravitate to anything more current?
Even towards the end of the show, I was listening to my heart, I’d listen to my breath. And something that I was finding out is that the songs that I was doing, it was resonating among many generations, from grandparents to people in their 20s and 30s to even the younger ones. I thought it was cool to be able to bring some of those songs that have a message of depth, of content, of musicianship back into the public eye. I don’t think they really went away. They went to jazz clubs and places where people had to seek them out, as opposed to just turning on a TV and seeing ’em. That was part of my mission and my job here. As we got closer to the finale, there’d be suggestions to do some current songs, but the older ones would just end up trumping them. For the finale, I was going to try to do the Matisyahu song “One Day.” But then we were thinking we needed to do something different, something bigger. That’s kind of where “Great Balls of Fire” mashed up with “Fire.” We’d had the idea of a burning piano the previous week, but it didn’t fit with the song. I heard the melody in my head, thought we could blow up some stuff in the back, and that’s what we did.

TVLINE | When you ended the season with “Play That Funky Music,” it was fun and quirky, but it didn’t strike me as the kind of “winning” performance that gets people to pick up their phones and vote. Were you thinking about strategy at all in that finale?
I felt like everything was going up from “Stand By Me” onward, and then it plateaued at “You Are So Beautiful,” which was so emotionally naked and raw. Where can you go from there? I felt like I needed to end with high energy and just have fun. I wanted to keep just evolving and doing different things and showing different sides of me while I had the opportunity to.

TVLINE | So you weren’t thinking about a strategic way to get votes so much as you were focusing on your own musical journey.
Like I told you before, man, I never looked at this like a competition. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to grow and to do things that I probably would have never been able to do. Like having all those dancers, having a lit-up piano, fire blasting in the background. And with “Play That Funky Music,” having people dancing in tubes and aerialists and a mini Cee Lo. It also gave the band a little break. They’re learning song after song after song — ballad after ballad — and they’re slowing it down. All those people are accomplished players and world-class musicians, and being able to get a little funky and let loose, it filled all of our spirits. We were working so hard. It was kind of nice to just let loose and kick it.

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  1. SL says:

    Great interview, Slezak!

    • midwestman says:

      Agreed SL, great interview Slezak! That’s what you get when you interview someone with wisdom, humility, talent, creativity and artistry like Nick. Hop over to the interview Slezak did with the winner, whoa- night and day to Nick’s interview. It is very indicitive of the contrast of musical talent translated into dialog. It is like comparing a Harley Davidson to a tricycle, both are going somewhere, but the one will pass the other by quickly and be legendary while the other one is a dime a dozen and will spend a little time on the road, but ultimately end up in a resale shop.

  2. dani says:

    Yay. Thank-you for this. NICK was/is my guy.And if I weren’t a broke ass poet/actor I’d buy his music.

    • Yo' says:

      Yeah, I love this guy. I listened to a lot of his original music, but bought the show stuff. He needs a really good cd out there, cohesive, to show himself off; I don’t think he has done that yet.

  3. BarbL says:

    I actually didn’t listen to The Voice much as I basically don’t like the format, but got curious about Nicholas’ performance while reading this interview.
    I’m glad I did; I’ve youtubed him, and wow have to admit I’m blown away. Why the heck didn’t he win?? The girl who did is so much white bread–Nick has something that simply doesn’t come around every day.
    And as much as I’ve liked X Factor (until about mid-season), I simply don’t see Nick having gotten as far as he did on that show. Too bad for XF, as they’ve drunk the kiddie-rock KoolAid and lost out on some real talent in the process–people like Nick David.

    • He didn’t win because he has a narrower market appeal than Cassadee and he wasn’t selling well on iTunes. Plus, the family man working hard for his dreams vote was split with Terry. Plus, he didn’t have that many memorable songs and he came across a little weird (image, and homeopathic remedies and too much AA drivel) which turned some people off. The fact that a 32-year-old dude who looked like a 45-year-old homeless person but sang well even if the song choices were dated and sometimes bizarre made it as far as he did, speaks to the taste of the voting public and the willingness of the Voice’s audience to support “artists.” He is a success story.

      • Yo' says:

        I don’t really get that the family man working hard for his dreams is much different from the single person working for his dreams. Not all contestants are “types,” and you had best hope you are not one the next time you have to submit to a job interview. I don’t think Nicholas would have been as successful without what you call his “weirdness,” but what many of us call his personality. Basically, he succeeded in spite of not being a pop prince(ss). Sometimes soul and talent win, even on reality television. The man succeeded by being who he was: what a concept.

        • soulsings says:

          I’m with ya YO! You tell tvwillrotyourbrain like it is in the REAL world! Apparently tv did rot his brain. Or maybe he works in the tv biz and it is rotting or robbing his soul. Nick was not wierd at all, rather he was his authentic self ( very, approachable, humble, non- egotistical) HOW REFRESHING! There is a music movement he has begun and it will sweep the nation. The recording company that picks him up will be sitting back laughing at the recording company that signed the winner. People connect with likeable people that are raw and honest and actually have talent to share. I could really see him being successful on his own weekly music-type entertainment show, because everyone looked forward to what he would share from week to week, even the judges felt this way. He has the ability to quickly jam with other true musicians. He is doing really well on the music charts ( right up there with the winner who has the publicity push) but his success is being made without that extra media blitz that has been given to the winner. That speaks volumes. He is one likeable and uber talented guy!

        • Yo’ — I don’t think you understood the post. I was saying he was a success story of people adopting a slightly weird stray and taking to him as an artist. But he just wasn’t mainstream enough to dethrone Cassadee–niche versus crossover pop/rock/country princess. The fact that he made it to the end was a “win” for diversity and showed that lots of people engaged with him and his music. But he isn’t for everyone and that’s why Cassadee took it in the end.

          PS. Everybody is a type. Nicholas is a type. We classify things to understand them better.

      • seattlejohn449 says:

        I love me some AA drivel! Having checked out a bunch of his before-the-Voice music I was totally impressed that he was really diverse and doing original music and his weird stage drag actually fit him performance-wise. Love this guy.

      • Debra Wright says:

        Plain and simple, Nicholas David was the most solid performer and most talented musician. Very unique vocals, piano, guitar, song writer, he was a diamond in the rough. Thankfully, he has now had an opportunity for others to see his amazing talent, his humility and sincerity. Homeless? If you call a young man with long hair “homeless,” then you’ve never been around homeless people. He didn’t sell as well on iTunes b/c folks like me (a bit older than Cassadee’s fans) struggle while downloading the songs. As we approached the finale, he really showed America the depth of his talent…each week, we waited and wondered what he would do next! We love you, Nick, and look forward to seeing and hearing more of you! Debra & Andrew Wright

    • realmusicheals says:

      I know, itsn’t he wonderful ! He is the ONLY reason I watched the show. ( won’t be watching next season or again because of all the wrongful things put in place to secure the manufactured contestant for the win) He made me believe that true musicianship still exists, and that we have real God given talent out there in the music industry. His answers to the questions are so full of artistry and shows his love for music. That it is not just this manufactured stuff that is here today gone tomorrow or one hit wonders. What I love about his interview is he isn’t about what he could get from this but what he could give out or give back. In sharp contrast to the winners interview on TVline, which is all about her (very self-centered) and what she can gain from this. Nick would have won if not for all the bias ploys that the show used. He still will go on to be increasingly embraced and he will surpass the robot, because the fake eventually break.

    • Karen Schell says:

      I too was surprised that the girl won. She is so similar to others out there. I hope Nicholas would win but expected the rocker to.
      My family and I love the program format. I think we’ll hear a lot more from Nick?

  4. He didn’t win because the producers didn’t want to, instead they forced Cassadee and her terrible singing under our throats. This guy is one of the best singers that any of these shows ever had.

    • Did the producers also force people to not buy Nicholas’ songs? The producers were nice enough to throw him a bone and let us have a final 3 with Nicholas in it–don’t throw it back in their faces now.

    • toni m says:

      Nicholas is the epitomy of The Voice … he is creative, different and so very soulful. This is what the soundwaves need. Cassadee is a common voice that can be heard should one turn the radio on right now….nothing different just a bunch of screaming.

    • nickalreadywon says:

      GO NICK!

  5. Lisakay says:

    I think its great how he acknowledged the Voice band. Very classy. Those musicians have got to work hard and the contestants couldn’t do it without them.

  6. Debbie says:

    Loved Nicholas David… best wishes on continued success to him. It isn’t just because he is a Midwesterner like me either.

  7. Lyn says:

    Thanks for this … loved him on the show, although his song choices were not the greatest. I kept wishing for him to compete with Boz Scaggs, Hall & Oates, Leon Russell, Ashford & Simpson … jazzy, soulful stuff.(Over the Rainbow? Really???) By contrast with the cute teen winner with nice hair, ND seemed like a real “voice” whose music i might actually buy. Wonder if I’ll get that chance.

    • seattlejohn449 says:

      look him up on google and find his website…I believe he has 3 or 4 cds available that are alot more diverse and original than his Voice covers

  8. rwfblog says:

    Was Nicholas’ lack of endurance or health issue ever explained? After one song late in the season he needed to sit while Carson did the post-song spiel. And for the last couple shows, he would need to lean on a piano or Carson himself after singing. I was glad he made it to the finals and wish him well, but became curious about his low stamina.

    • pianogirl says:

      my take on the sitting and leaning was that Nick always poured his heart and soul into every performance. The song You Are So Beautiful, was the performance where he sat on the chair for a moment and if you watch it again on NBC website you will notice how he gave everything he had to that performance.. fighting back so much raw emotion as he sang to his wife on national tv… like playing 4 quarters of football in 3minutes…same thing when he leaned on the piano… he just channeled so much artistic energy into his performances that I think it would leave him a little weak in the knees sometimes…I always felt that this highlighted how passionate he was about music and what he had to share with us… heck it had to be nerve racking being on national tv and then for him to tackle so much each week…he not only sang but also took on an instrument accompaniment….where the other 2 contestants of the top 3 did not…Cee lo even mentions in his commentary to Nick that he admires his energy…so I think he appreciated how Nick would leave it all on the stage leaving himself with little or no reserve.

    • Mmsk20 says:

      I wondered about that too. I too put it down to all the “feelin” he puts into his music and I hope that is all it was.

  9. onlyakb says:

    really cool interview!! and it turns out all of the 3 finalist were in bands before and had previous experience, and quite frankly to me they were all very talented!!

  10. Deena says:

    Great guy. Great voice. Hope their is a market for his music because we need to hear more of him.

  11. Andrea says:

    I love Nicholas. I think that there will be great things happening for his musical career in the near future. Yeah, he deserved to win but he will in the end.

  12. Cath says:

    “Emma” Ward, lol. I hope this was a TVLine mistake, because Nicholas David should know better. Regardless, ND was fantastic and was so humble.

  13. Meghan says:

    This is an awesome interview! Love the questions you asked, Slezak, and Nicholas’s responses are very candid and illuminating.

  14. Lois Benton says:

    Love Nicholas. I’m glad a female won, for once, even if the female isn’t the one I would have chosen, but Nicholas should have won, based on voice and musicianship.

  15. pianogirl says:

    OMG !! heads up for all you Nicholas fans…..just watched him on and HE PERFORMS WITH HIS TALENTED BAND, The Feelin, “What’Going On” !!!!! Go check it out… is OUTSTANDING. Man it just confirms that he should have won the voice…but it will probably be better for him that he took 3rd so he can go on to be him and showcase his greatness like in this performance on…..didn’t think his performance of this song could get any better than the one he did on The Voice….. and then he changes it up and puts such a groove and melody on it…OH, PERFECTION…..can not get enough of this musician !!!!! Also he is so humble and kind in his interview too !!!! Good things are ahead for this warm soul !!!

  16. BarbL says:

    Where are you, Michael?

  17. Anna says:

    I honestly don’t know why the girl won this at all I feel she was just an ordinary rum of the imill singer and she tried too hard to sing. Almost like she was screaming and winded. Nick had a true singing voice so natural skillfully he sang and played piano wrote songs and sung other Artists songs as if they were his. I love his sincerity and expression when he sang it comes from his soul. This in itself touched many not everyone has Nicholas David’s gift I believe he is a rare talent and exceptional human being. Spirit filled man that sings with soul and spirit. Humble. And sincere we don’t find many now days. I will buy Nicholas CD. I know we will see more of Nick. He’s only begun. Look out world for he’s only begun. Props Nick keep on you have more blessings coming your way. The world loves you.