Fayetteville's Barrett Baber is a country singer-songwriter and contestant on the current season of NBC's "The Voice." A Marion native and former teacher, Baber quit his job to pursue music full time in 2014, when he won a contest hosted by the Grammys. Watch him perform on NBC at 7 p.m. Mondays and 8 p.m. Tuesdays.
You went from being a family man and high school teacher to a contestant on one of the most watched television programs in America. Did you ever see this coming?
Yes and no. I never gave up hope that I would make it in the music business as a songwriter, but I definitely resigned myself to the fact that as a 35-year-old guy living in Fayetteville, that I probably wasn't going to be a big-time recording artist. I had accepted that my life was going to be rooted in my family, writing songs and working day jobs as a teacher or a salesman, but "The Voice" has single-handedly revived that dream and shown me that I still have some life in those dreams and now I'm watching them come true with everyone else.
Before "The Voice" you were a high school teacher. Is performing on stage at all similar to teaching?
My road to the classroom was a little bit different than most people's. I went to school and got my degree in communication and public relations and worked many years in radio and television as an advertising sales rep. Three years ago I decided I wanted to do something different with my life and serve my community. I got my teaching license through the nontraditional licensure program and found myself standing in front of 30 high school students at Fayetteville High School with zero teaching experience.
There is no tougher crowd than 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds. Lucky for me, I had spent 10 years plus playing my guitar all over Arkansas and had learned how to reach people with performance. Teaching is a performance in and of itself. Every day I had to find a way to make them smile, laugh and learn.
It's a tough crowd being on "The Voice" sometimes, too. There's an audience full of people that you don't know and four successful celebrities who are going to be nitpicky and very critical of what you're doing because that's their job.
Your sound has been described as country-soul.
That's a great description. My upbringing in the Delta — Marion, near West Memphis — really exposed me to soul, R&B and country. That's what shaped my sound. Four or five years ago I realized that some of the most well-written songs were country songs. As a songwriter I decided to take what I do vocally — a soulful Southern sound — and put it on some really great country lyrics and that's what gave birth to my sound.
As I continue in the competition I'm certain that my coach, Blake Shelton, will have some input on the songs I choose and perform, but I'm going to continue to sing the way that I sing. I hope that he'll continue to let me do my thing and rock out with this country-soul thing, but I am also confident in my ability and I trust him to point me in the right direction.
How are you feeling coming off of your recent win? What was it like to have to battle your roommate [Dustin Christensen]?
I feel really great. I'm excited; I'm to the next step and looking forward to the upcoming knockout round. So far it has been an incredible experience. Battling my show bro, Dustin, was difficult, to be honest. We had joked about it before we got our pairings, and as fate would have it we got paired off against each other. Once we got our song and wrapped our heads around it, we decided to go out, make some music together and do the best we possibly could to make each other sound great and both advance whether by winning the battle or being stolen by another coach.
What's your favorite part about being home in Arkansas?
Walking through the grocery store, the gas station, the post office, and just the amount of people that stop me and say, "Hey, we're proud of you, we're glad that you're doing great things, you're representing the state well." That means so much to me. This whole experience is another example of why Arkansas is the best place on earth in my mind. Not necessarily just because of anything here, but because of the people here, who support other Arkansans who are doing big things on a national level.