The Voice has welcomed a local talent into its ranks: 21-year-old Julien Martinez of Oxnard. It’s early days for the young singer, of course — he was just chosen on March 2 for Team Adam (i.e. the group headed up by Adam Levine of Maroon 5) during the third round of blind auditions for the singing competition’s 12th season. But after an impressive performance of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy,” his musical career seems off to an auspicious start.
“It is one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” Martinez says of his involvement with the NBC television program. “You’re surrounded by so many talented people, from all over the place. Everyone is so genuine. It’s really inspiring. And I’m learning a lot: It’s an educational experience.”
And a daunting one, at least initially. While Martinez does play around town in a local band, the Road Brothers, this was something completely different: an enormous stage in front of a live audience and a panel of four judges — Alicia Keys, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani — who also happen to be some of the biggest names in popular music. During the blind auditions, the audience can see the performers, but the judges can’t, evaluating contestants purely on vocal ability.
“It was scary!” he exclaims. “I had the pre-stage jitters. I looked at my hands, and they were pale and white and shaking. I just decided that I needed to trust my instincts and go.” Martinez was the picture of confidence when he took to the stage in blue jeans and cowboy boots — the perfect costume for a rousing rendition of “Pride and Joy,” which ended with a primal scream that got the judges out of their seats. Shelton was impressed by the “manly-man rockin’ singer” he felt Martinez represented, saying, “You have the greatest scream in the music industry.” But the country star ultimately lost out to Levine when Martinez chose to be on Team Adam.
While The Voice is a singing competition, Martinez says that, so far, it hasn’t generated ill will between the contestants. “The Voice is not like that,” he says, noting that singers are more likely to root for, rather than against each other. He thinks that’s because there’s something to be gained even if you don’t win the $100,000 prize and recording contract. “Whether you make it or not, you’re going to get exposure.”
And while he hasn’t had much opportunity — yet — to work with his coach, Adam Levine, he has gotten a lot of positive feedback from the judges. “Everybody is so sweet,” Martinez says. “Gwen was really cool. Alicia — totally sweet. Good vibes all around.”
Music has been a part of Martinez’s life from a young age. It’s a family tradition, in some respects — two of his uncles were in bands, and one became quite popular in Mexico in the 1980s. His first instrument was the piano. A book about The Doors, given to him by his father, Sergio (who is a battalion chief for the Oxnard Fire Department), sparked a passionate interest in rock, Texas blues and other musical genres. “I begged my piano teacher to let me play something that wasn’t classical,” Martinez recalls. But when she wouldn’t comply, he quit.
Instead he found his way into musical theater, appearing in productions at Elite Theatre in Oxnard, the Conejo Players Theater in Moorpark and Camarillo Skyway Playhouse. “I’m not really classically trained,” he admits, “but nothing beats practical experience.” His work in local theater, and as a musician, has shown him the value of arts in a community. “Our community needs to support local artists,” Martinez says. “We have just such a culturally diverse community, and if we don’t support it, we’ll lose it.”
Martinez cites John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, Chuck Baker and even Neil Diamond and Joy Division as some of his biggest influences. “I’m a musically diverse person,” he says. He made his mark on The Voice with rocking blues, but hopes he’ll have a chance to “explore my softer side.” “I can take myself down to a more solemn place, more acoustic” the young singer says, adding that he’d love the opportunity to sing “No Ordinary Love” by Sade.
While chasing the limelight, Martinez works as a paraeducator in an after-school program, and is training with the Oxnard Fire Department to become a firefighter like his father. If he finds success with The Voice, how will that impact his plans? “I only have three classes and the academy left to get my certification,” he says. “I do want to finish my education first.”
Beyond the microphone and the firehose, the ambitious Martinez has even loftier aspirations: He hopes to become an astronaut. “One winter . . . I went to the Grand Canyon,” he recalls. “I looked up and could see the Milky Way so vividly. It made me wonder what else is out there — the possibilities are endless.” When asked if a career in music would conflict with working at NASA, he seems unfazed. “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” he says. “We’ll have to see. My life is changing rapidly — but I can adapt and change.”
Whether he’s headed for pop stardom, or a life exploring the stars, the future of Julien Martinez seems bright indeed.
Follow Julien Martinez’s progress by tuning into The Voice on NBC. The next episode airs Monday, March 27. See highlights online at www.nbc.com/the-voice.