Chris Mann Does it His Way
I think it may be hard to find anyone out there who would give up steady work recording on studio albums for FOX’s hit series "Glee" in the uncertain world of the music industry, but that’s exactly what "The Voice" Season 2 finalist Chris Mann did after listening to his inner voice. That voice basically told him to do things "his way." Breaking away from what he called "vanilla" work on "Glee" led Mann to find his confidence in his voice again and put him back on the right path.
The path led him to NBC’s hit competition reality TV show "The Voice," a type of show that Chris would not have seen himself doing only a few years earlier. Admittedly, "The Voice" offered the right format for Mann and his voice, and his wanting to be half Josh Groban and half pop. As Chris puts it, "I really wanted to represent myself in a sort of classical crossover way."
After a fourth finish on "The Voice," Chris was quickly signed with Ron Fair’s (Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige) new record label Faircraft/Republic, releasing his first full-length studio album, "Roads," in the Fall of 2012. Led by Mann’s covers of Lady Antebellum’s "Need You Now," Damien Rice’s "The Blower’s Daughter," Coldplay’s "Viva La Vida," Frank Sinatra’s "My Way," and Willie Nelson’s "Always On My Mind," "Roads" quickly moved to the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers Chart, and #5 on Billboard’s Classical Albums Chart.
Acknowledging his admiration for the way Elvis Presley connected with his audiences, Mann recreated, to a certain degree, the set design of Presley’s " ’68 Comeback TV Special" in his own TV special, "Chris Mann in Concert: A Mann For All Seasons" on PBS, which began airing in March of this year. With "A Mann For All Seasons" now available on DVD and CD, Chris has been on an aggressive U.S tour that will take him through the rest of 2013.
While on tour, I caught up with Chris, the man I call Sarah Brightman’s male counterpart, and had a chat about his previous dislike for competition reality TV, why The Paul Anka penned "My Way" fits with his eclectic album "Roads," his upcoming PBS Christmas special, and why he doesn’t take fan compliments lightly.
BeBe: Had you thought of doing a reality competition show before "The Voice?"
Chris Mann: A friend took me to audition for "American Idol" once many years ago toward the beginning of the show’s run. I didn’t make it through, and I don’t really care. At the time, I was not really a fan of these types of shows. However. I saw "he Voice" during Season 1, and it was more open-minded about what constitutes "the voice" than say "American Idol." It was the first time I thought I would be interested in trying something like that. I just love the show.
BeBe: Contestants of "The Voice" have said that the show’s format, being chosen from a blinded judging panel, and coached by current music industry professionals worked well for them. Would you agree?
Chris Mann: It’s great because, in my case, I could go in with my own identity and say ’I really want to represent myself in a sort of classical crossover way, and whether you like it or not is up to you, but that’s how I’m going to go into this.’ The show allows you a lot of artistic freedom, the prejudice is cut way down. Of course, the coaches are a positive influence as opposed to being critics. They are actually in it to win it themselves. It is a very encouraging show. If you go into the competition show with an open-mind, you can come out of it better.
BeBe: Soon after being on the show, you went on to release your first album "Roads" in October of 2012. On the album you have a song, a cover of Damian Rice’s "The Blower’s Daughter" featuring your coach on "The Voice," Christina Aguilera. Your voices really blend well on this song. I truly dig it.
Chris Mann: Well, thank you.
BeBe: On your debut album "Roads", you included a cover of "My Way." Was this choice an ode to Sinatra, or is it a personal statement song?
Chris Mann: I grew up listening to Sinatra. My granddad played him constantly, so I’m a huge fan. But, the reason why "My Way" came about was because Paul Anka called me right after "The Voice" and asked if he rewrote the song with a younger man’s perspective, would I record it? Of course, when Paul Anka asks you, you jump at the opportunity. (My version) is the only official version written by Paul besides Frank’s. And grammatically, it makes sense with "Roads" because "Roads" is about staying on your road that will lead you home. What Paul wanted me to say (with "My Way") is that I’ll always do things my way. That’s what I did on "The Voice." It made perfect sense.
BeBe: That explains its inclusion on the album well.
Chris Mann: While in concert on my current tour, "My Way" is the song that everybody is consistently waiting for. Pretty interesting. You’re right, "Roads" is a pretty eclectic group of songs, but it all makes sense because they all tie-in well together. Whether it’s "Viva La Vida" (translates to live your life) or "My Way" it’s all sort of in the same bag.
BeBe: "My Way" was a big signature song for Sinatra. Is this developing into one for you?