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'Voice' hopeful with Pittsburgh ties enjoys his ride of fame

| Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Carson Daly holds up the arm of James Wolpert on a recent episode of NBC's 'The Voice' as Will Champlin looks on.
James Wolpert performs on an episode of NBC's 'The Voice.'
Will Champlin (left) and James Wolpert talk with Adam Levine on an episode of NBC's 'The Voice.'

Like many contestants on reality shows, James Wolpert's life has spun into a whirlwind of change, and the show is only a few weeks into the season.

Wolpert was working at the Apple retail store in Shadyside after dropping out of Carnegie Mellon University two years into his studies as a visual arts major. Now, he's moving on to the third round of NBC's “The Voice” after winning in the battle round Oct. 21 against fellow contestant Will Champlin, whose father was in the band Chicago.

“It's a dream come true,” says Wolpert, 22, who grew up in Lancaster County and is a 2009 graduate of Lampeter-Strasburg High School in Lampeter. “It's the first step toward what I personally want to do, which is just ... make music the rest of my life, and get it out to as many people as I can.

“It's like this one giant job interview,” he says of “The Voice.”

Wolpert's whirlwind of the past year and a half began with leaving Carnegie Mellon, when he realized that his chosen path wasn't for him.

“College was both very difficult and very expensive,” he says. “I wasn't sure that it was worth all the time and money I was investing in it.”

In order to, hopefully, find something to do that “I'm even more deeply in love with ... I decided to take a little time off.

“What was originally supposed to be time off kind of turned into a permanent hiatus from college,” says Wolpert, whose parents weren't thrilled about his decision.

While he worked his Apple job, Wolpert moonlighted as a singer at local bars and clubs. Then, when “The Voice” opportunity came, he headed to Los Angeles to participate. He said on the Oct. 21 episode that he has quit his job in Pittsburgh and given up his apartment.

“You have to defer everything you are working on currently to focus on ‘The Voice,' and that's what I did,” he says. “I packed up and moved west, to really buckle down and focus on my career in music. (‘The Voice') is almost like a shortcut or a golden ticket forward.”

During his Sept. 23 blind audition of Jack White's “Love Interruption” on the season-opener, all four coaches — Blake Shelton, fellow Pittsburgher Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine — turned their seats around to ask Wolpert to join their teams. Wolpert picked Levine's team.

During the battle rounds, each coach pits two players from his team to sing the same song in a duet; then the coach must pick a winner and the other singer goes home. On Oct. 21, Wolpert and Champlin sang Imagine Dragon's “Radioactive.” Green and Shelton gave the nod to Wolpert, both noting the contrast between his button-down appearance and the passion he puts into his singing. Aguilera thought Champlin sang better. In the end, Levine picked Wolpert as the winner. Champlin will remain on the show after he was “stolen” by Aguilera for her team.

Now, Wolpert will face the “knockout” round, where two team members again face off. But this time, the singers select the songs they perform individually. Each coach picks the winners on his team, and the other singers go home.

The sudden fame of reality television, Wolpert says, is “hard. It is a lot of pressure.”

“Just jumping from being an Apple-store employee straight to the stage where tens of millions of people” know you is incredible, Wolpert says. “It's a lot of stress, but the results are just 100 percent worth it.”

When “The Voice” first debuted, Wolpert decided he would try out for that show if he had the chance, rather than “American Idol” or other singing shows.

“The Voice,” Wolpert says, “seems to highlight the talents of all the artists and a show that doesn't take itself too seriously — as opposed to ‘American Idol,' which is like the soap opera of (reality television).”

While winning “The Voice” would be great, just being on the show for a few episodes brings vast exposure, he says.

“Everybody's a winner,” Wolpert says. “Everybody who's a part of the show ... all my fellow contestants are wonderful, wonderful people. It's been an honor to be part of that crazy family.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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