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Interview:
Ann Arbor blues-rocker is ready to do battle on "The Voice"
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Laith Al-Saadi had a couple of minutes when he wasn't sure he would be spending much time at all on NBC's "The Voice."

The Ann Arbor singer and guitarist was well into his rendition of the Box Tops/Joe Cocker hit "The Letter" before any of the judges swiveled their chairs to choose him for their team. "Yeah, there was a moment halfway through the song where my heart was sinking a little," acknowledges Al-Saadi, whose televised March 1 appearance was taped in October. "I was thinking, 'OK, nobody's gonna turn around for me and I'm going home.' But I figured that either way, I'm on national TV, I have to do the best I can even if they're not gonna pick me.

"Fortunately they turned around. That was good. But it felt like an eternity."

Al-Saadi had his choice of coaches, even -- country singer Blake Shelton and Maroon5 frontman Adam Levine, who he ultimately chose.

"It's a complicated decision," says Al-Saadi, 38, who enters the show's Battle rounds this week. "As a blues-rock-Americana buy I do think Blake touches a lot of common ground for me. I do a lot of stuff that has a strong, country influence. But I think Adam overall has more rock 'n' roll to him, and he's an eclectic music lover. He's got a good base of musical knowledge and I think he likes a lot of the stuff I do.

"So I felt like choosing (Levine) would give me the chance to connect more with the rock 'n' roll I want to do. But Blake would've been a good coach, too."

Trying out for "The Voice" was a bit of a hard sell for Al-Saadi, who had established a strong base in Michigan and around the Midwest with regular gigging and four albums -- one with his band Blue Vinyl and three on his own. He notes that "people have constantly been telling me, 'Oh man, you need to do that show'," including previous contestants Michelle Chamuel and fellow Michigander Josh Davis, who were both finalists in their seasons. But Al-Saadi didn't want to sacrifice what he'd already built in order to do it.

"I wasn't willing to cancel gigs and go waiting in a building in L.A. for two or three days to see what happens," Al-Saadi explains. "I said if they ever got ahold of me, maybe I'll do it, and lo and behold I was contacted by somebody (with the show) and asked if I wanted to audition. So I just decided to take them up on it."

Now that he's in "The Voice" mix, Al-Saadi sees the benefits as plentiful. There's a chance to learn from Levine and Team Adam adviser Tori Kelly -- and possibly Miley Cyrus, who will be advising all the teams during the Knockout rounds later on. And Al-Saadi is confident that the exposure of a national TV show can only help his career in the long-term.

"Being that I'm pushing 40, I don't know really what my next moves are," Al-Saadi says. "I've been able to make my living playing music for 20 years, but I'm still doing bars and weddings, corporate gigs and all that stuff. Obviously I would like to be doing more concerts and expanding the territory where I Play.

"With the demise of the record industry and the way things are now, I felt like this platform was pretty good in terms of getting exposure. Josh and Michelle both made it pretty far, and they said it was great for their careers in terms of liberating them as artists to get to do stuff the way they want to do it. So that's what I'm hoping to get from this."

It's a long road to "The Voice" finale in May, of course. But Al-Saadi has been working hard with Levine and preparing for the upcoming weeks of Battles, Knockouts, Playoffs and viewer voting. (Fortunately, he says, the famously well-inked Levine does not force his team members to get tattoos.) The pace is dizzying, but Al-Saadi says the atmosphere is more conducive and collegial than he ever imagined.

"I think one of the most remarkable things about it is they have created such a healthy environment for the contestants," he says. "I'm not one that really believes music is a competition, especially in a situation where you have this many talented people coming from different directions. Everybody's got something they bring to the table, you know?

"But they've created an environment where everyone supports each other. We all want each other to succeed and perform as well as possible. I really like that. So it's been a fantastic experience."

"The Voice" airs 8 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC, WDIV (Channel 4) in Detroit.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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