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Finding his ‘Voice’: Spokane’s Liam St. John croons his way to Stefani on NBC show

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 6, 2020

Spokane singer-songwriter Liam St. John performed Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy” for his blind audition in the new Season 19 of NBC’s “The Voice” on Oct. 20, and his appropriately sexy rendition caught the attention of coaches and newly engaged couple Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton.

After hearing pitches from both superstars as to why St. John, 29, should join them, with both praising his performance, the Ferris High School and Whitworth University graduate selected Stefani.

St. John, who was born and raised in Spokane, hopped on the phone two days after his national TV debut and talked about growing up in Spokane, being a track and field star, his love for the Spokane Indians and more.

Congratulations on being a member of Team Gwen Stefani on the new Season 19 of NBC’s “The Voice.” How does it feel?

It’s a dream come true, man, it’s been a lifetime in the making, it feels like, so it was such an affirming and incredible moment watching her turn.

Why did you end up choosing Stefani over her real-life boyfriend, Blake Shelton?

That was a fun time watching Mom and Dad on the show argue over me (laughs). I admire all these coaches so much, the way they’ve established their careers. I admire the way Gwen Stefani started her career in No Doubt and the way she performs. She’s a very unique artist.

There is not one genre or lane that I fit in on “The Voice,” so I felt like partnering with Gwen, we would be a good match. It just felt right.

Are you a fan of Stefani’s music, and have you seen her in concert?

I’ve never seen her live, but I grew up listening to No Doubt. Their songs were anthems for a lot of us 1990s babies.

How did you come about choosing Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy” for your primetime debut, which, by the way, many people described as very sexy?

I’m flattered (laughs). I heard a cover of “Sex and Candy” by another Spokane local guy, Allen Stone, from Chewelah. It heavily influenced me. He’s one of my favorite artists. My band and I started covering that song in more of a bluesy tone. It felt really comfortable. It felt like myself. My goal as a performer is to always be my full and true self on the stage.

Shelton really raved about your performance, and he knew how to pronounce Spokane correctly. Stefani described your voice as “rich.” Were you nervous performing in front of the judges?

Yes! Typically, I’m not nervous about performing because it’s my life source, my breath. But there was no live audience, and you’re performing to the backs of these chairs of these absolute legends just hoping they’ll affirm your voice.

It is a part of live performance that I’ve never experienced before. It was nerve-wracking, but as soon as the band started playing, you just fall into the pocket and let the music take over.

You are from Spokane, as you told the judges and TV audience on Tuesday evening (Oct. 20). How many years did you live in the Lilac City?

I was born and raised in Spokane. I was born on Fairchild Air Force Base in the parking lot, in a car. I lived there until 2018, and then I moved to Portland and was there for a little bit before relocating to Los Angeles.

You grew up involved in music, theater and sports in Spokane. Tell me about that.

I was such a shy kid. I was raised by a single mom and spent a lot of time by myself. I was so shy, but the blues captivated me at a young age where I was singing or listening to soul and blues music all the time. It was the only time as a child when I wasn’t shy, when I was singing.

I performed in school plays. In elementary school, I remember being part of a play, and during rehearsal, the music teacher came up to me and said, “You look so sad and tired.”

She had told us to that this was a dress rehearsal, and I was supposed to be a tired soldier coming back from war. I was fully immersed in this performance as a 5-year-old. It was a foreshadowing of how much I love performance.

Sports consumed me from a very young age. I just fell in love with football and track and field. Sports grabbed a hold of me, and I went with it for a very long, long time. I went to Ferris High School and did track and field and football there for four years, then went to Whitworth University and did track and field there for four years and was team captain for two years.

Tell me about your time at Whitworth.

I had a really successful time there. Our track team won conference championships four years in a row. I moved to South Africa after my undergraduate years to continue my track and field journey for one more year, then returned for my master’s in business and was the graduate assistant coach for the track and field team.

Do you have a favorite memory or two at Whitworth?

All my favorite memories at Whitworth come from the track and field team. It was a truly brilliant community, and it was the first time I felt part of something that was bigger than myself. Coach (Toby) Schwartz does a great job of identifying what we’re there to do, and he just does a great job of pushing us to all do it together.

You still have family and friends in Spokane because they were watching you on Tuesday night?

Yeah, my mom, sisters, niece, my aunts and uncles are all still in Spokane, and a lot of my friends from high school and college are planted there.

Do you ever get back to Spokane? You haven’t been gone that long since you moved away in 2018.

It seems like an eternity, though. A lot has happened. I came back after the audition to visit my mom and see my family.

What is a favorite memory of growing up in Spokane?

Hmmm … I’ll give you a couple. We loved going to Spokane Indians games. Something I always looked forward to as a kid, and even as an adult, I still bring my glove to the games. We sit in right field and wait for those foul balls that we’d never get.

I remember heckling the opposing team’s right fielder, and he would joke around with us as kids. I loved that. It’s a great memory, and it’s sad that COVID took that away from Spokane for a little bit.

Also, we didn’t have much growing up, but my mom in the summers, we would always go to Lake Coeur d’Alene. It was such a fun time just sitting on the beach getting some sun and eating some chips.

I love Spokane. It’s such a gem. A lot of people don’t understand how beautiful a city it is, and I love seeing how much it is getting a makeover right now downtown. It’s really beautiful.

How are you adapting to Los Angeles?

I loved L.A. It just one of those cities that I resonate with … I’ve lived in Spokane, Johannesburg, Portland and L.A., and there are just some cities that have vibrations that resonate with you. I love being surrounded by such ambitious and authentic people who are all artists and designers and people who are hustling. It’s really nice to be around people like that.

You have praised the now-closed the Bartlett in downtown Spokane as your dream venue. What do you miss about Spokane?

The Bartlett was always a place I wanted to play, and I finally got to before I left. It’s really sad that space is closed down, but I know they opened the Lucky You Lounge in Browne’s Addition, which I haven’t had a chance to visit yet.

I miss so much about Spokane. It’s my home, and it will always be that to me. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. I miss my mom. I miss getting four seasons in one day. That’s classic Spokane. I love autumn in Spokane.

Who are some of your musical influences besides Allen Stone?

My foundation and musical influences come from my mom’s taste in music. She introduced me to artists like Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill and Tracy Chapman at a very young age.

I went to Hamblen Elementary, and we lived just down the street. I remember coming home, and one of those amazing artists would be blasting in our house. I think soul music and blues music, it just finds the people who need it. It just resonated with me at a very young age.

What do you hope to gain from “The Voice” besides winning, of course?

Yeah, that would be a dream to win. Music is my life source, it’s my breath, and it’s what I will do for the rest of my life. I’ve already gained so much from this show and the experience alone. I hope to gain a little more leverage in this industry.

It’s a grind, and it will never not be a grind as a musician. But I know that this opportunity doesn’t come to everyone, so I’m just grabbing on tight to whatever comes my way because of “The Voice.”

I’ve already experienced singing for whiskey and pizza in dive bars for zero people. I know what the bottom is, and I love it, and whatever comes from this will be a huge blessing.

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