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Former Greeley resident Jake Wells in tune on “The Voice”

October 20, 2018


Terry Frei 


 Season 15 contestant Jake Wells on “The Voice.” (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

When young Jake Wells and his family moved to the Greeley area from Kansas City in 2011, they settled in an Evans mobile home park. The goal was to get his mother, Sonya, who was fighting Lyme disease and an auto-immune disorder, closer to her twin sister in Fort Collins.

Among the possessions left behind in Kansas City were a piano, organ,  guitars, drums and violins. Yes, this family previously had been a gospel music act.

Jake enrolled as a junior at Frontier Academy, the charter school in West Greeley, and immersed himself in school, soccer and music.

He missed that family piano.

“I needed to release something,” he said on the phone the other day. “I got a job at Buffalo Wild Wings in Greeley and one of my friends was a student at UNC. I asked her for her student badge, to have, and I would sneak in to the UNC piano practice rooms. I spent hours and hours every single day sneaking in, just sitting in one of those rooms and playing the piano.

 The Voice


The four-time Emmy Award-winning “The Voice” features coaches Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, and is hosted by Carson Daly. In its 15th season, “The Voice” has five stages of competition: The season begins with the Blind Auditions, then the Battle Rounds, Knockouts and Playoffs, and finally, the Live Performance Shows. For more information, go to http://www.nbc.com/the-voice.


“It saved my life because it was a dark time for me and I needed something — and UNC had it. I was a 16-year-old trying my best to to pretend I was in college. I was working for the first time, playing music and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I wouldn’t consider myself a very talented vocalist (then).”

Yes, the 23-year-old-singer who already has become an internet sensation after his “blind audition” appearance on “The Voice” earlier this month, actually said he wasn’t confident in his singing at that point. (For the record, he now goes by his middle name as his stage surname, contributing to confusion for those in northern Colorado trying to remember him from his pre-Voice days.)


 Greeley’s Buffalo Wild Wings, where Jake Wells worked while attending Frontier Academy. (Terry Frei)

“I was heavily attracted to the piano and then slowly but surely as I gained confidence in my voice and I got a little older, that just kind of came naturally,” he said.

Wells first became hooked up with what would become the current Season 15 of The Voice nearly a year ago. NBC guards the specifics of the show’s combination of “live” and “taped” elements in the episodes. This much we know: At the time of the interview last week, Wells still was “alive” on the aired version of the show as a member of the team “coached” by Adam Levine, Maroon 5’s lead singer and also an accomplished songwriter.

At least in that attention-getting blind audition, Wells, the singer with the colorful, multi-striped sweater, showed off a soulful voice remindful of Josh Groban and arm motions of the Joe Cocker school of expression. And he ended up working with Levine, who “turned around” in time to bring Wells into the competition on his Team Adam.

The “Battle” episodes of the season’s competition started last week, and Wells is expected to be on the air in one of those soon, perhaps as soon as Monday or Tuesday.

It’s all a rather unlikely twist, given Wells’s earlier years as a northern Colorado resident.


 Adam Levine of Maroon 5, the “coach” of Jake Wells’s team on The Voice. (NBC photo.)

After his two years of high school at Frontier, he enrolled at UNC and — struggling financially — stayed only two semesters before moving to Fort Collins to live with his cousin.

“I was working at King Soopers,” he said. “I was  managing a deli. But I knew that’s not what I wanted to do.”

Jake and his little brother, Joshua, decided to explore America. Jake took his dog, a guitar and his backpack. They hitchhiked to the northwestern tip of Washington, then down the Pacific coast and back to Kansas City.

“My source of revenue while we were traveling was ‘busking’ in the cities we stopped in,” Wells said. “I would sit down, pull out my guitar, open up the case and just start playing and singing. It was in those moments, when I was hungry and needed whatever it was, maybe 68 cents for a day-old loaf of bread at Jimmy John’s, when I found my voice. Something different happens with your voice when you’re playing because you’re hungry.”

He said that in Santa Cruz, Calif., he sang next to a jewelry stand.

“After the song ended, I looked over and the people that were selling the jewelry were crying,” he said. “They looked at me and they said, ‘That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.’ They said to come to their table, they’d like to give me a piece of their jewelry.”

He picked a bracelet.

“I still have it,” he said. “I don’t wear it any more because it’s about to break. But it’s a reminder of, ‘This is where I found my voice, this is where I realized that if I lose myself in what I do, I can connect with people and give a gift that surpasses anything I can do with my time.'”

After returning to Fort Collins, he regretted not dedicating his passions toward seeking a music career. He put out inquiries to friends in Portland, Seattle, New York and Kansas City, asking about job prospects and housing, and he ended up going back to Kansas City. He performed his own song, “Roll Like Thunder,” on BalconyTV and a he drew considerable attention on Spotify.

 Watch Jake's performance on "The Voice" here.

The folks from The Voice noticed.

He’s still living in Kansas City and works at a club, the Record Bar, about four times a month. “I work when they really need me,” he said. “I enjoy seeing live music.”

As do all performers on talent-search TV shows, Wells knows stars have been made — and wouldn’t mind adding to the list. One of them is Kelly Clarkson, who won the first season of “American Idol” in 2002 and now is a coach on The Voice. (In the early notes of Wells’ Blind Audition, Clarkson burst out, “Oh, I love this song.”)

“I absolutely have the full expectation and hope that this stint on TV will expand my career in music,” Wells said. “The caveat is that my career in music is going to happen regardless, either way. I absolutely hope my experience on The Voice expedites that process and it launches me to do what I want to do full time, even sooner than I anticipated.”