Anthony Paul is leading a double life.
One is as a freshman at Elmhurst College—going to class, studying, making new friends and managing the distractions that come with newfound independence.
The other is as a national singing sensation, a sweet-faced but steely competitor on the NBC megahit reality show The Voice whose name, face and, of course, voice recently hit millions of TVs, cell phones and computer screens across the nation and around the world. In this life, Paul is giving media interviews, consulting regularly with his Los Angeles publicist, checking the demand for his iTunes single “With You,” and constantly engaging his growing fan base through Twitter.
In one important way, Paul must keep the two lives separate—the show’s contract keeps him from talking about where things stand for him on The Voice. But he also has figured out when it’s okay to let the two lives intersect, mostly by sharing his experience so far with the friends he’s made at Elmhurst. They cheer for him at campus viewing parties of The Voice, and keep him grounded when his dreams get ahead of him.
The Voice teams up promising singers with one of the show’s celebrity coaches: Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Adam Levine or Blake Shelton. The show is divided into four stages of competition: the blind auditions, the battle rounds, the knockouts and, finally, the live performance shows. It airs at 7:00 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC Channel 5.
So far on the show, Paul was picked during the blind auditions to join Green’s team, only to lose a battle round to teammate Caroline Pennell after they performed Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me.” But Paul survived to sing another day when Aguilera stole him for her team. The knockout rounds begin Monday, October 28.
No matter what happens on the TV show, Paul’s overriding goal will be exactly the same as it has been since he was little: to become “a big star.” Everything he’s done so far in his 18 years of life, including coming to Elmhurst College, has been focused on getting to that goal.
It all came together for him during one grueling week this past winter, when he was still a high school senior living in Twinsburg, Ohio. On a frigid Saturday in mid-January, he drove from Twinsburg to Chicago to take part in cattle-call auditions for The Voice. Nine hours of waiting in line led to Paul’s chance to sing for five minutes in front of a producer. Paul then drove home and was in school on Monday and Tuesday. Called back for a second audition, he drove back to Chicago—a trip that took 13 hours, thanks to a snowstorm. Right after that, he joined his show choir for a competition in the area. By Sunday, he was at Elmhurst College to audition for the music program. He returned to Ohio in time to be back in high school by Monday.
“I was juggling a lot,” he laughed, “but I will never forget that week.”
By spring, he learned he’d made it onto The Voice, and started preparing to go to Los Angeles to tape the initial episodes.
By then he’d also been accepted to colleges in Ohio, as well as to Elmhurst. His dream of musical fame and fortune ultimately led him here.
“I knew I wanted to be a big star but I knew I couldn’t become one in Ohio—it’s not a music hub,” he said. “Chicago is.”
He also was drawn by the strength of Elmhurst’s choral program, led by music professor Susan Moninger, whom Paul had met when he attended one of her Showchoir Camps of America in 2012. Moninger recalls that he had been a winner at the camp’s talent show, beating out 700 participants from 28 states.
“He’s a natural talent and has an incredible range and a beautiful tone quality,” she says. “But most of all he has this natural style—he comes alive on stage—and is very sweet and hard-working, and I think those qualities will get him far.”
After spending the summer in Los Angeles, Paul went home to Ohio for less than a day, to pack for college.
When he first arrived on campus, before Season Five of The Voice began airing, he couldn’t tell anyone that he was on the show. But his floormates in his residence hall figured out pretty quickly that Paul was no ordinary music business major. As a member of the Concert Choir and the Late Night Blues Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Paul would practice in his room. One day he opened his door to find half a dozen students listening outside.
Carrie Nielsen, a freshman music business major from Grayslake, lives four doors down from Paul. They became good friends in the usual way. “When I first met him he just seemed really nice and a little homesick. We started to hang out on our floor and got to know each other that way. I heard that he could sing really well but I hadn’t heard him myself.”
Then one day, Paul started talking about his summer and showed her a picture of himself, auditioning on The Voice. She was excited for him, but says the news hasn’t changed how she treats him.
Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty thrilling to see him on TV. When the battle round aired last week, Paul and his floormates gathered in the common area for a viewing party.
“You’re watching him on TV and turn your head and he’s sitting next to you,” Nielsen said. “It’s kind of weird, but it’s fun.”
“Being at school and watching the show, it’s unreal,” he said. “You’re onstage, all made up, in those clothes, and then the way the camera angles are … I see myself and think, ‘That’s me?’ But eventually you get used to it and it’s really cool.”
Nielsen tries “to make sure he doesn’t get a big head,” she jokes. “When he starts talking about his Twitter and being famous, I just give him this look and he knows.”
But who can blame Paul for dishing a little about what it’s been like to work with CeeLo Green and Christina Aguilera?
“They’re just really nice, and what you see on TV is what you get in person,” he says. “CeeLo helped me learn how to portray a song more emotionally, and Christina told me I’m great with my runs and to use it. They really want to help you do your best.”
Surprisingly, so do his competitors. One of the things Paul says he’s most enjoyed about being on The Voice is “just hanging out backstage with the others” as they waited for their turn to perform. “We’re all very supportive of each other, all friends. When you’re there for so long, you all have to like each other. We wanted everyone to do well, even when you knew deep down that not everyone was going to get to stay.”
As for what happens next for Paul on The Voice, he can’t say. But he views just making it onto the show as an amazing prize.
“I’m still getting used to it,” he says. “But I know I can say forever that I did it—I got to be on a stage of that caliber at the age of 18. I’m just really grateful. And I’m so excited to see what will happen next in my life.”