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Baseball hopeful Curtis Grimes, 3 others take stage for NBC's new singing show 'The Voice'

Michael Corcoran
Rebecca Loebe

When singer Curtis Grimes plays country music festivals, such as Lone Star Jam at Waterloo Park earlier this month, he's easy to spot in the hat pack. The curly-haired 25-year-old is usually the only one backstage wearing a Boston Red Sox T-shirt. An all-star pitcher for Harmony High, in East Texas, Grimes grew up idolizing the fearless pitching style of Pedro Martínez, who had several years as the Bosox ace.

"Man, that was my dream since I was 5 years old, to be a major league baseball player," said Grimes, one of four Austin contestants on "The Voice," which debuts at 8 p.m. Tuesday on NBC. After graduating high school in 2004, he got a scholarship to play baseball at Centenary College in Louisiana. But after transferring to Texas State and having to sit out a year, Grimes started thinking about a career change. He became a fan of "red dirt" country such as Randy Rogers Band, Wade Bowen, Jason Boland and the like and never missed a show from Austin to San Antonio during his time at Texas State.

"The first time I ever sang into a mike was at Gordo's on the Square (in San Marcos) in 2007," he said. Just a year later Grimes, who sings in a classic country growl, won the Austin leg of Kenny Chesney's "Next Big Star" contest and opened a sold-out Chesney show at the Erwin Center.

Grimes was first contacted by "The Voice" talent scouts in January and passed an audition at the Music Lab on St. Elmo Street. But after a second audition, Grimes didn't hear back from the show for three weeks and figured he didn't make it. Then one day he got a call telling him he was in. "You're flying out in two days," he was told.

Unlike "American Idol," this new vocal judgment show finds "coaches" Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 sitting with their backs to the contestants. After the song's over, they can hit a button that turns them to face the singer or stay facing away. If none of the chairs turns around, the contestant is finished.

These "blind auditions" will be aired the first two weeks, with the final 32 revealed at the end of the May 3 episode. Then come four Tuesdays of "battle rounds." The live shows, in which America votes, begin in Las Vegas in June. Grimes' first segment on the show, singing Shelton's "Hillbilly Bone," is not until the second week.

Grimes' father, an oil exploration consultant, will have to watch the show from Saudi Arabia, where he's currently teaching.

Grimes is forbidden by his contract with NBC to disclose any results of the episodes which were taped last month. But he can talk about what he calls "an amazing experience" of being on the show. The 70 contestants lived together, two to a room, during the tapings in Los Angeles and Grimes said roommates often helped each other with their songs. "It doesn't feel like a competition because everyone else is so supportive," Grimes said, then laughed. "Well, almost everyone. You have to watch the show." Grimes said he and the other three Austin-based contestants — Nakia Reynoso, Tje Austin and Rebecca Loebe — have bonded and often show up at each others sets back in Austin.

Like a pitcher's duel, Grimes knows there's no room for miscues on "the Voice" if he's going to end up with a W. But having been on the mound, with his team depending on him, has made him mentally tough, Grimes said. "Some folks don't like that kind of pressure, but I eat it up."

mcorcoran@statesman.com

Austin on ‘The Voice'

In addition to Curtis Grimes, these Austin-based singers are competing on NBC's new reality show:

Nakia

Alabama native Nakia Reynoso has kept the highest local profile of the four ATXers vying to be ‘The Voice.' He arrived on the scene with Nakia and the Southern Cousins soul revue, which tore up Austin clubs for a couple years. But these days he divides his time between a piano-driven solo project and the gut-bucket Nakia and the Blues Grifters.

Rebecca Loebe

Brand-new to Austin living, Rebecca Loebe grew up in Atlanta, attended the Berklee College of Music to study studio engineering, but then switched to performing at the behest of a mentor. Her first trip to Texas was in 2008 to participate in the New Folk Contest at the Kerrville Folk Festival. She won it the following year.

Tje Austin

This neosoul singer (pronounced ‘Tie') moved to Austin from West Texas in 2001 to attend UT and from the lyrics of ‘City of Me,' an ode to A-U-S-T-I-N, he's found his home. With his smooth, powerful voice — Journey in an Afro?— he's a natural for TV (and YouTube) and has had his songs played on ‘Today' and MTV's ‘Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom.'