Meet The Voice 2017 winner Judah Kelly
HOW DO YOU IMPRESS DELTA, SEAL, BOY GEORGE AND KELLY ROWLAND AT ONCE? 20-YEAR-OLD LAIDLEY MAN AND WINNER OF THE VOICE 2017 JUDAH KELLY SHARES HIS STORY.
“The dream was my mother’s,” says the 20-year-old singer-guitarist. “It said she’d have a musical son and she’d name him Judah — Mum said I was humming before I could talk.
“In my mind there was nothing else I was ever going to do, it was always going to be music for me, and I’ve always wanted to perform.”
Over a gripping ten weeks this year, Australia watched as Judah’s extraordinary gift came to fruition in season six of The Voice.
The born country-soul singer’s blind audition of Tennessee Whiskey had Delta, Seal, Boy George and Kelly Rowland all turning chairs in breathless admiration.
“I remember when I was three or four, I was in New Zealand and my grandmother wanted to show me off, so I sang in front of the whole church and that was the earliest performance I remember.”
Judah took out The Voice this year and his debut single Count On Me went straight to number one on the charts.
Including that life-changing version of Tennessee Whiskey, the rest of the album showcases a unique and passionate slant on the country genre, as well as Judah’s resolution to make his own mark as an artist.
Over 10 weeks the 20-year-old from Laidley spent most of his time waiting to be sent home, but when he made the top four his mentality changed.
“I was approached to audition for The Voice last year through a friend, and the day before the auditions I pulled out,” Judah says.
“I read the email and thought I couldn’t be bothered... [but] this time I wanted to put the effort in.
“It wasn’t until I made the top four that I thought I could win it.”
Judah didn’t think he would make it through.
“I kept thinking I’ll be cut next, and it didn’t happen, then I thought next week I’ll go for sure,” he says.
“I just kept thinking it was my time to go, but then when I got top four I really started to think that maybe I could have a crack at it — my mentality changed.
“It went from top eight to top four quickly, and people said to me they could see a change in my approach from that point — I took that ‘take no prisoners’ approach.”
Judah made his debut aged four, in a New Zealand church where his grandma proudly propped him up to perform.
His professional career began at 10, when he started fronting his parents’ karaoke business in Bowen.
“People wouldn’t rock up until 10pm,” he explains.
“Somebody had to sing ‘til then and it was usually me.
“Dealing with drunk people and whatever else happens in pubs — seeing all that so young definitely helped.”
For five years Judah has worked as a live bass player, guitarist and studio session player.
Last year alone, he drove 90,000 kilometres to play innumerable gigs.
“When I won, there was a few seconds of realisation,” he says.
“In that situation I didn’t want to mishear what was said.
“I heard my name and I thought... really? You sure? It was genuine shock, and I think the look on my face showed how I was feeling.”
The next week was a whirlwind for Judah, who was raced around between promotion and recording, while battling sickness and lack of sleep.
“It took a week or so to sink in to be honest, there was no time straight after the show to absorb it,” he says.
“The Voice wrapped up, then there was an after party, then I got about 30 minutes’ sleep, then had to do the first of 36 interviews.
“Then I was doing a video clip for the single, then it was straight into
recording the album… there was no chance to take in what had happened.”
Count On Me was the original song that won Judah the title in the nail-biting series climax.
“We did the Count On Me album in 10 days, so it was literally a week after I’d won we started,” he says.
“Normally it takes three to six months to do an album and we did it in 10 days.
“Unfortunately I had laryngitis for a few days, so I went from The Voice to no voice, and that was a stress that we didn’t need.” His talent was clearly exceptional. “It’s a different kind of energy singing live versus recording in the studio,” Judah says.
“I think I perform better live, that’s just me personally — it’s an energy you don’t get in the studio.
“If there was a way to get that, I’d be happy to go there and record.”
The self-confessed fan of motown and country music is happy with the album he’s about to release, and hopes that people pick up his influences in the music, and on the cover.
“Growing up I listened to motown, from Michael Jackson to The Temptations, then at some point I liked country music, and turned to Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Vince Gill,” he says.
“When I was recording the album I found some songs come easy, some take longer — you basically do a few takes and pick the best.
“The album cover is a reference to Johnny Cash, it’s the kind of vibe we were going for, and I’ve played lots of his music over the years.”
Judah realises he’s been given a great opportunity and plans to make the most of the chances he’s been given, so you can expect to see him playing live for many years to come, as he believes that’s what he does best.
It’s a long way from the man who was often skint.
“There’s a perception that people on TV talent shows aren’t good, and aren’t that talented,” Judah says.
“This tour in September is just me and a guitar… there’s nowhere to hide.
“It will show that I can sing and I’m a musician, not just someone performing one song at a time on TV.”
“It’s true that I did have minus ninety bucks in my account when I went for The Voice.” - WINNER OF THE VOICE 2017 JUDAH KELLY
To hear Judah plead for love in the stark soul groove of If I Go, and wring pure triumph in his first recorded co-write, When I Get Back Home, is to hear his story etched in songs of the most affecting kind.
“It’s true that I did have minus ninety bucks in my account when I went for The Voice,” Judah says.
“I was driving a car that cost more in fuel to get to the gig than the gig was paying.
“It’s a welcome change now to be in this position.”
The future [is] rushing just as fast into view.
“The goal is to keep playing shows, that’s the plan,” he says. “It’s where I exceed, live performances. “That’s where I see myself going — I’ve been given a great chance, and I’m going to take it and run hard with it.”
Judah is still adjusting to fame, but he remains with his feet firmly on the ground.
“I once had someone cry when they met me,” Judah says.
“That was a first, so I just gave them a hug.
“These are the people who supported me through the show, bought the songs, voted for me… and if I have to stand there for a few seconds and take a photo, then I’m happy to do that.
“The main thing for me is to keep it real and to keep making music that makes people feel something.
“I want to make something with meaning, that’s what the goal is. As long as I can pay my rent, I’m happy. If it gets bigger than that, that’s a cool bonus.”