Washington’s Owen Danoff performs on his biggest stage yet: ‘The Voice’
Singer-songwriter Owen Danoff has been making the rounds at Washington-area venues for more than five years. A performance at Ebenezers Coffeehouse. A show at Jammin’ Java. Opening for other musicians at the Hamilton and the Birchmere. At most, he played for a few hundred people; at the least, a few dozen.
But since early March, his music has been reaching millions of ears that tune in on weekday evenings to hear him sing and strum his guitar.
Danoff’s latest gig: contestant on “The Voice,” the NBC singing competition.
On Tuesday, he advanced to the top 11 after a nail-biting elimination-round performance against Emily Keener, a 17-year-old who sings in sepia tones.
“It’s crazy,” Danoff said by phone from Los Angeles a day after the live show. “I have gotten so much farther than I ever expected.”
If serendipity — or rather, the suits from Hollywood — hadn’t stepped in, his career might have unspooled in a different direction. Danoff is the son of Bill Danoff, who won Grammys for such singalong hits as “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Afternoon Delight.” Now, the folk-rock musician son, who started writing music at 15 and graduated from Gonzaga College High School in Northwest Washington, had been toying with the idea of auditioning for the show since Season 3 (in calendar years, September 2012). In July, now living in New York, he signed up for open calls. But he never showed up.
“I chickened out,” he admitted. “I thought I occupied a different space in music than what you see on music shows.”
Danoff, who gravitates to the lyricism of folk music and the energy of rock bands, doesn’t have a big bowl-you-over voice or a flashy stage presence. And yet the show’s producers noticed a spark in his YouTube videos and contacted him. In early March, Danoff appeared at the so-called blind auditions with a guitar slung around his T-shirted neck and Bob Dylan’s lyrics on his tongue. The four coaches — Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine and Pharrell Williams — all swung their chairs around and fought for the right to nurture the voice covering “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” Levine won that battle.
“He had no preconception of who I was,” said the admitted fan of Levine’s band, Maroon 5. “He gives me honest comments and just wants me to grow.”
Since earning a spot on the show, Danoff has been spending hours a day with Levine and vocal coaches, practicing, selecting songs and honing his craft. He works with the show’s staff to select songs that reflect his aesthetic and style of music but also resonate with America’s viewers. His fate rests with the public’s voting thumbs.
“The song is on my mind all week,” he said. “It never stops.”
On social media, followers have suggested that Danoff perform one of his father’s songs, but he balks at the idea.
“It’s a little too close,” he said. “I can’t divorce the recording from him. It’s like wearing his clothes.”
As a self-professed fatalist, he said, he was prepared for Tuesday’s elimination show. He imagined standing onstage as one of the bottom two, preparing himself for the decisive vote. “I think I go into some weird shock mode,” he said.
Now he can picture himself in next week’s live shows.
Danoff will have the opportunity to perform one of his original creations — if he makes it to the Final Four.
To remain in the competition, he needs the votes of the people. Across Washington, locals are drumming up support. The neighbor who lives across the street from his parents’ District home have put up a sign campaigning for him. Musician friends give him a shout-out at concerts. He even won the pop-rock vocalist category in April’s Washington Area Music Awards.
“The community is very tight-knit and supportive,” he said. “I have such a wonderful background in D.C. No matter where I am, I consider D.C. to be my home.”
Danoff knows that the unparalleled exposure of the TV show will help him elevate his career. He doesn’t know whether he’ll win — or even ascend to the next level. But he already has proof that his time on the show has paid off.
On June 30, he will appear at the Hamilton. Mike Schiavo, who was eliminated in the Battle Rounds, will open. Owen Danoff will headline.