This time last year, Chris Mann faced his make-or-break moment. “I remember it was Halloween night and my blind audition for The Voice was just a few days away,” Mann recalls. “I was a nervous wreck. I went to The Voice with the hope of just making the show.”
What a difference a year makes. Now Mann is signed to Faircraft/Universal Republic, a new label formed by renowned producer/music executive Ron Fair. He’s also releasing his major label debut, Roads, a bold reimagining of the classical-pop genre. The aptly-titled album represents the culmination of a long and challenging journey for this gifted and dedicated young artist, who’d been pushing forward against what had appeared to be overwhelming odds.
After studying opera at Vanderbilt in Nashville, the Wichita, Kansas, native had spent years singing in clubs and auditioning for record labels without a nibble, until three years ago, when one classical label took a chance on him. Mann was working on what would have been his debut album when he was abruptly dropped, the victim of a wholesale regime change at the company. Devastated, he started working behind the scenes as a session singer on Glee, and occasionally getting on camera as a member of the fictional vocal group the Warblers. He was making a decent living, and for a while he managed to convince himself that it was what he should be doing with his career.
“I never doubted my talent, but I had so many people not know what to do with me that I started to think I was weird,” Mann explains. “So I spent the next couple of years doing pop, until I realized I was wasting my time, and my voice, trying to dumb it down. I decided to go back to the genre I love—what I’d dedicated my whole life to learning how to do—classically based pop music.”
When he strode onto a soundstage at Sony Studios to perform Andrea Bocelli’s “Because We Believe” for his Voice audition, Mann was more nervous than he’d ever been before a performance. “It was a combination of knowing that this was bigger than anything I had ever done before and realizing that it could change my life,” he says. “I just sensed that that something different was gonna happen this time—something good.”
Mann’s intuition was right. He killed it that day and was selected to be on Christina Aguilera’s team. "As the first serious classical singer on one of these shows, I couldn’t believe it when I kept getting voted through, week after week. These people who kept voting for me were my fans—they gave me back my confidence and helped me find my true voice.”
After the series ended, Mann signed with Faircraft—serendipitous in that back in 1998 Fair, then senior vice-president of A&R for RCA Records, had signed, oversaw and supervised Aguilera’s career. The decision was a no-brainer for both Mann and Fair. “Ron is a believer,” says Chris. “He has a passion for classical crossover music—he gets it.” Together, they immediately began conceptualizing of the album project—or projects, including a Wal-mart exclusive Christmas EP.