Words by Sarah Vasquez
“I would never have guessed that I would try out for The Voice and that I would be on it,” Tje Austin says.
I wouldn’t have guessed either, but that’s what happened in the spring when my then-roommate disappeared to film the show. He casually mentioned that he’d auditioned for the NBC nationally televised singing competition, but I never heard about it again until he came home.
Austin’s upcoming album, Dreamin’ Big, was already finished when he got the call. “I was actually downtown at another show when they called me up. They were like ‘Hey, you need to pack your bags,’” said Austin. “I was stunned.”
After he picked Cee Lo Green of Gnarls Barkley fame to be his coach, he was eliminated in the battle round against local soul singer Nakia. “Getting cut was a very sad moment for me,” said Austin. “It’s not the end of the world. I am very grateful that I was on the first episode and that a lot of people connected to my story.”
Austin’s story of being adopted when he was four days old was played up a bit before his blind audition, hiding his face until he sang Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.” Meanwhile, his parents, most noticeably his cowboy father, were immediately introduced. “I don’t feel like I’m a poster boy for adoption or anything like that, but it was kind of cool to be able to talk to people that understand that,” said Austin.
When he came home, he was inspired to cut some tracks from his album to include new songs about his experience on The Voice. “Each of my albums are soundtracks of my life,” he said. “This was such a huge moment in my life that they needed to be added to the album.”
At first glance, Austin stands at 5’10” always with a nerdy shirt, skinny jeans and his grey Puma shoes, but it’s his signature fro that distinguishes him. “It’s pretty distinctive. Actually as a musician, it adds a little bit more credibility,” he said, half joking.
The origin of this hairstyle, however, is a blur for Austin. “I don’t even know. I think (I started the fro) when I couldn’t afford a haircut,” said Austin. “Now I love it. Can’t picture me being without it.”
Fro or no fro, Austin differentiates himself as one of the few R&B singer in a city filled with rock bands. “I’m R&B, but I also don’t want people to think that I’m Mario or Ne-Yo or Usher. I’m R&B, but I’m Tje,” said Austin. Just because the local music scene isn’t known for R&B, he doesn’t feel it limits him. “I think Austin treats me very well,” said Austin. “I think that because I’m not the norm, that just makes it a little bit easier for me. You’d think it’ll be harder, but it’s easier.”
And as a self-proclaimed sci-fi nerd, Austin integrates those references into the common themes about love and trying to become a household name. “Maybe I’ll throw in something about space or the universe or stars or something,” said Austin. One song in particular “Save Me” is from a guy’s point of view who feels left behind by his superhero girlfriend. “She’s always off saving the world,” said Austin. “She’s not paying enough attention to him and all that. I think a lot of people could relate to that situation.”
With The Voice over and Dreamin’ Big coming out in late August, Austin is enjoying the exposure. “I see a lot of new faces each time that I have a show, and that’s the best part,” said Austin. However, it is to be expected for him to perform the song that introduced him to the world. “I just look at (“Just the Way You Are”) as a song added to my set list,” said Austin. “It’s familiar and introduces them to my music. Hopefully bringing them into my corner.”