Going into the third round of “The Voice” — and with the competition intensifying — EJ Michels wanted to perform a song that would really make him stand out.
Throughout the competition, “The Voice” coaches had consistently praised Michels, a 31-year-old singer from Draper, Utah, for his commanding stage presence. Longtime coach Blake Shelton even called Michels’ voice “electrifying.”
From sitting at the piano and performing an Adele song to dancing across the stage and belting out Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of my Tears,” Michels had shown that he could tackle just about any genre.
So for the Knockout round, which aired April 24, Michels opted to go with the song “Trip Switch,” by the U.K.-based band Nothing But Thieves. It was a song with attitude that gave off “frontman vibes,” said Michels, who is the lead singer of the Utah-based alternative pop-rock band Foreign Figures.
“Being the frontman in the beginning was terrifying, but then I got more confidence to be like, ‘I deserve to be right here in the spotlight,’” Michels said in a clip that aired before his performance, adding that Foreign Figures has opened for Smash Mouth, X Ambassadors and Kesha. “But ‘The Voice’ is my first opportunity to really take my solo career step forward.”
In preparation for his performance, Michels got to work with his “Voice” coach Niall Horan, formerly of One Direction, and country star Reba McEntire, who is a mentor on the show this season. Specifically, McEntire spoke with Michels about getting into the emotion of a song, telling him that she visualizes the story in her head as she performs.
“That’s great advice,” Michels told McEntire, later telling “Voice” producers that the “advice really just flipped a switch.”
“If you’re not feeling it, how are you gonna make anyone else feel it?” he said. “I will never forget this moment.”
EJ Michels competes in ‘The Voice’ Knockout round
For the Knockout round, Michels was up against fellow Team Niall member Michael B., a 29-year-old singer from California. Horan called both of these artists “big, rangy dramatic singers who can do it all.”
Michels went first. Donning a sparkly black jacket, the singer brought a high-energy performance to the stage that showed off both his personality and vocals.
“EJ, you had an energy that felt personal,” “Voice” coach Chance the Rapper said following the performance. “I do think because you were so into it there were moments where the pitch wasn’t all the way right, but you enjoying it so much gave us the feeling that we were looking for.”
Kelly Clarkson, meanwhile, noted that she had never heard the song before but that she would be covering it “shortly on a talk show near you.” Clarkson said Michels made a “smart decision” in performing “Trip Switch” because it separated him from all of the other singers in the competition.
Horan — who stole Michels off of Shelton’s team during the Battle round — praised the singer’s artistic diversity.
“Everything he puts his hand to, it seems to turn to gold,” he said.
But in the end, Horan opted to send Michels home and advance Michael B. — who he called a “dark horse” of the competition — to the next round. Michels and Michael B. hugged each other in a show of support following the big reveal.
Grateful is an understatement, Michels said on his Instagram after the performance aired. I began this journey so nervous yet excited to be finally accomplishing one of my biggest dreams to be performing on the @nbcthevoice stage. I can now say that with no doubt I did it and gave it my very all.
To all the new relationships I’ve made, to the lessons learned the biggest one is that I’m capable of so much more than I give myself credit. I wanna thank everyone who’s been with me since the beginning and everyone who is new to the page, I have SO much to share with you all very soon that I’ve been working on for years. Thank you to @blakeshelton for turning for me and having me on your last team and @niallhoran for not letting me go home too soon. And lastly to @nbcthevoice for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. I love you all.
A look at EJ Michels’ run on ‘The Voice’
Michels started out “The Voice” on Shelton’s team, winning the country star over with his rendition of “Adele’s “Easy on Me.”
“Your voice is so raw and honest,” Shelton said during Michels’ audition. “Sometimes people come out here and there’s imperfections in their performance that just make you feel, as a listener, more of a connection. And there were times your voice was starting to break up a little bit. And all that did was create an angst in the performance and emotionally kind of had me on the edge.
“You can make me feel that, I can’t wait to see what you can do to America.”
For the next round, Michels went up against singer Tasha Jessen in a duet of “Tracks of my Tears.” Chance the Rapper called it an “award show-level performance,” the Deseret News reported. Shelton ended up selecting Jessen to move forward — but Horan used his one and only steal of the round to snag Michels for his team.
Michels called being on “The Voice” “validating” after grappling with issues of self-esteem and authenticity while growing up in a conservative Utah culture.
“The things you hear when it comes to LGBTQ individuals ... it was always with this negative undertone,” he said during his audition episode, which aired March 13. “It really took a toll on my mental health, and I eventually got the courage to come out. ... It took a lot of vulnerability to open up to other people, and to uproot my entire life.”
“It’s actually been a really healing experience for me being on the show,” he said during the second round of the show, which aired March 27. “I can just kind of be myself on stage.”
What’s next for ‘The Voice’ contestant EJ Michels?
Michels formed Foreign Figures with his brother, Steve Michels, in 2014. The band performs frequently throughout Utah, including at Velour in Provo.
“Big congratulations to long time friend of Velour, and Utah music scene veteran EJ Michels, for his standout performance on The Voice,” Velour owner Corey Fox wrote on Facebook following Michels’ audition. “It’s been a pleasure to watch you develop as a musician, singer, and as a person over the last several years. Excited to see what doors this opportunity might open for you and Foreign Figures!”
Michels is part of the lineup for the upcoming Fork Fest in American Fork, Utah. He is slated to perform on June 17.