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Sarasota native Josh Kaufman on winning ‘The Voice’

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Josh Kaufman performs on the May 5 episode of NBC's "The Voice," a singing talent show. Photo provided by NBC

Sarasota native Josh Kaufman performs on the May 5 episode of NBC's "The Voice," a singing talent show. Photo provided by NBC.

Mark Kaufman, who lives and runs his own successful roofing company in North Port, never said anything. Never gave his son, well into adulthood and living in Indianapolis, a hard time about pursuing a music career that seemed to have stalled with low-paying local bar and sandwich shop gigs.

Mark remained proud that Josh had stayed at home with his three kids during the day so his wife could finish her college courses to become a registered nurse. Mark respected his son for working as a tutor in the evening preparing high school students for the SATs.

But, as a father and grandfather, he worried about his son struggling financially. It concerned Dad that maybe his son, recognized as a gifted vocalist at age 4, might never be able to realize his dream of being a singer and songwriter. As a musician himself, Mark knew firsthand how difficult it is to turn a passion shared by many into a profession enjoyed by a few.

“It’s not the standard way to go about things, getting your start in your late 30s,” Josh Kaufman says. “But it feels like it makes sense. I’m more ready. It does make a difference. I’ve had more experience so I’m in a position to keep things in perspective; and through it all I’ve had the support of my family.”

Sarasota native Josh Kaufman became a national celebrity last month when he won NBC’s singing competition show “The Voice.” The 38-year-old’s long and unlikely rise to stardom can easily be used as a lesson in perseverance. File it under an inspiring story of a father’s unwavering support, too.

“He’s super excited,” Josh says about his dad. “He’s been excited through the whole process.”

Josh Kaufman, left, poses with his trophy with Usher after the 38-year-old from team Usher was crowned the season six winner of NBC’s “The Voice” Tuesday May 20, 2014. (AP Photo/NBC, Trae Patton)

Josh Kaufman, left, poses with his trophy with Usher after winning NBC’s “The Voice,” May 20, 2014. (AP Photo/NBC, Trae Patton)

Shortly after winning “The Voice,” in front of more than 10 million TV viewers, Josh was joined on the confetti-covered stage by his entire family: Ava, age 2; Charlie, age 4; Sophie, age 6; wife, Jennifer; and his parents. Recalling the moment, Dad gets choked up.

“I was holding his little one, Ava – I’m tearing up here, it’s been very emotional – she was acting up a little bit, so I was holding her and couldn’t clap and I just put my arm in the air and said, ‘Thank you, God,’” Mark says, during a separate interview.

Ava was more amazed by all the confetti.

The victory secured Josh a recording contract with Universal Music Group, a $100,000 cash prize and a Kia car. The next day, he sang on the NBC program “Today” and then “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” which meant performing with seminal hip-hop act The Roots. Josh sang the Pharrell Williams smash “Happy.”

“It was amazing to sing with them,” Josh says. “The whole situation, being there with Jimmy Fallon, it was surreal. I had just won the night before and had flown all night.”

During the flight from Los Angeles to New York, Josh tried to make sense of what had just transpired. Three weeks later, he still sounds in awe of his own good fortune. Still sounds like he’s floating in a state of disbelief.

“People asked if I expected to win and I absolutely didn’t,” Josh says. “It was so much of a surprise, so emotional that it happened all at once, I was trying to let it all register and at the same time, after all that coming to an end, I was just exhausted.”

Josh adds with a chuckle, “Luckily, I did get a couple hours of sleep on the airplane.”

The “Voice” win also means co-headlining this summer’s nationwide concert tour of the same name, which kicks off this week with three shows in Texas. It comes to Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday. The tour takes a rare break between the shows in Houston and Tampa.

Josh Kaufman with his family, Ava, age 2, Charlie, age 4. Sophie, age 6, and wife, Jennifer Myer, at Dallas White Park in North Port.. COURTESY PHOTO

Josh Kaufman with his family, Ava, age 2; Charlie, age 4; Sophie, age 6; and wife, Jennifer Myer, at Dallas White Park in North Port.. COURTESY PHOTO

“I think our days off we actually have off,” Josh says in reference to the numerous publicity obligations required of him. “I have to look at the itinerary and see how it all works but I’m hoping to get to spend some time with my family down there in Florida.”

Mark Kaufman and Beth Gilbert were married and living off Bee Ridge Road when she gave birth to Josh at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. By about age 4, Josh’s parents divorced. Mom moved to Lake Wales to attend college and Mark relocated to South Sarasota County. Josh spent weekends with his dad, including Sundays at the First Church of God South Venice, which Mark continues to attend. The Protestant congregation would be the first in the area to witness Josh sing in public.

“My dad played guitar and I would sing and I thought it was so cool,” Josh recalls of a particular performance at age 8.

Mark also took his son on various outdoor adventures around South County. He fondly recalls finding flat shells to skip with his son in the waters off North Jetty Beach Park.

"My favorite thing I remember doing as a kid when visiting my dad was a lot of fishing in the canals around Englewood and probably the ponds in North Port,” Josh says. “I always liked to go to my dad’s. He would also take me to the jetties. I always remember throwing rocks into the water and seeing how far we could get them. I would ask my dad to pick up the big ones and throw them. That was great.”

When he was around 10, Josh’s dad remarried. Doris and Mark Kaufman have been together for the past 28 years. Also an employee at Mark Kaufman Roofing, she recalls spending time with Josh at Dallas White Park in North Port.

“There’s a playground there with the monkey bars and everything,” she says. “Josh recently brought his own family back to the park. It was a lot of fun.”

While in high school, Josh moved with his mother to Virginia and made a couple appearances on “Star Search” at age 16. Josh’s performances on the long-running show hosted by Ed McMahon aired in 1993. (Yes, there’s footage on YouTube, see below.)

On the show, Josh thanks his mom “for all she has done to help.” He then adds, “Even when she put me up on the piano when I was 4 years old to sing in church.” Two decades later, Josh recalls “beating the first two people and then losing to the third.”

"Obviously, ‘Star Search’ was the biggest thing going on at that point but it’s hard to compare with ‘The Voice,’” Josh says. “What they are able to do now production-wise on each episode and with social media, everything blows up so much more. Everything is bigger than back then.”

Singer Josh Kaufman with his trophy after winning the spring 2014 season of "The Voice." Photo by NBC

Singer Josh Kaufman with his trophy after winning the spring 2014 season of "The Voice." Photo by NBC

Josh moved to Indianapolis for college in the mid-1990s and has remained there. His band New Etiquette had a residency at a small bar and Josh would play solo performances at Potbelly Sandwich Shop, a restaurant chain in the Midwest. A father of three, Josh was ready to quit music before attending the St. Louis auditions for “The Voice” last year.

Josh was shocked after all four of the show’s celebrity judges – Usher, Adam Levine, Shakira and Blake Shelton – turned their chairs around and pleaded for the Sarasota native to be on their team. Josh selected Levine before Usher “stole” him away.

“Throughout the show, even though I was on Usher’s team, I would talk to Adam, and he was really congratulatory after I won,” Josh says. “He found me and said, ‘I’m really proud of you.’”

Of course, pop star Levine, lead singer of the band Maroon 5, isn’t the only person proud of Josh.

“I have three boys, two from my second marriage and Josh is my only blood son. The other two have always been doing so well financially and he always struggled,” Dad says. “He was hanging on to the music, making 75 dollars a night. He tried to quit singing a couple times but he just couldn’t get away from it. I always worried about him as far as that goes in his life but I never said anything.”

Mark gets choked up again and then lets out a soft laugh.

“Now, he might outdo all of us,” Dad says. “It’s like Cinderella. He was mopping floors one day and a few days later he was in the palace.”

 ‘The Voice’ tour
With Josh Kaufman, Tessanne Chin, Jake Worthington, Christina Grimmie, Jacquie Lee, Will Champlin, Dia Frampton, Jake Barker and Kristen Merlin.
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 25; Straz Center for the Performing Arts; 1010 N Macinnes Place, Tampa; $42-$76; 800-955-1045; strazcenter.org.

 

‘The Voice’ tour
With Josh Kaufman, Tessanne Chin, Jake Worthington, Christina Grimmie, Jacquie Lee, Will Champlin, Dia Frampton, Jake Barker and Kristen Merlin.
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 25; Straz Center for the Performing Arts; 1010 N Macinnes Place, Tampa; $42-$76; 800-955-1045; strazcenter.org

Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013
WADE TATANGELOis the editor of TICKET + and a contributor at TicketSarasota.com. He has been an entertainment editor, reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013 and writes the weekly Bar Tab column. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: June 18, 2014
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