Reality Rocks (New)

‘Voice’ Folkies Midas Whale Talk Rock Operas, ‘Idol’ Origins, and Being “Baked”

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

When Jon Peter Lewis, the quirky singer fondly remembered as the "pen salesman" of "American Idol" Season 3, intriguingly tweeted a few weeks ago that he had tried out for "The Voice" this year, fans excitedly awaited his return to reality TV after nine long years. What JPL fans didn't know was Jon wouldn't be going it alone this time--this time around, he'd be auditioning as one-half of a brilliantly titled folk-rock duo named Midas Whale.

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Jon and his bandmate Ryan Hayes's Blind Audition for "The Voice" inspired all four judges to spin around, and now that Midas Whale have joined Team Adam (a wise choice, fellas), they seem like the first duo in "Voice" history with a real shot at making it to the series' finals. Reality Rocks recently spoke with the guys about their "Voice" experience, their rock opera (YES THEY HAVE A ROCK OPERA OMG), "Idol" versus "The Voice," and baking analogies. Good times ensued. Jon's sharp sense of humor hasn't dulled since the last time he was on TV, and while Ryan is definitely the Quiet One in Midas Whale, it's still up for debate whether or not he's the Cute One, as you will soon find out if you read on…

YAHOO! MUSIC: So Jon, it was 2004 when you were first part of this whole TV singing-show whirlwind on "Idol." What made you want to jump back into the fray now? Did you have any trepidation?

JON: There were a lot of things that played through my mind. At first I was hesitant when friends suggested that I audition for "The Voice," because of my history on "Idol" and just kind of thinking, "I don't know if that's a bad move for me or not. What if the judges don't turn around for me? That would make me look really bad." But then the more I thought about it, I thought it could be a really cool thing--especially when I found out that they have a lot of duos, because Ryan and I had been working on a rock opera together and I had been looking for an excuse to actually form a duo with Ryan. Also, there were a lot of things, looking back on my experience from "Idol," where I thought, "I could have done this, I could have done that." It's kind of like I'm getting an opportunity to replay some of these lessons I've learned in hindsight. And all of these things culminated into it being a very attractive idea, and me calling Ryan and asking him if he wanted to have an adventure. Those were my exact words: I said, "You wanna have an adventure?" And he said, "Might as well!"

YAHOO! MUSIC: How long had you guys been Midas Whale before auditioning?

JON: We've collaborated in the last maybe three years on the rock opera that Ryan wrote, but as far as actually playing music as a duo together, it's a new project that we kind of did for this particular show.

YAHOO! MUSIC: Wait, a ROCK OPERA??? Tell me more, please! I'm fascinated.

JON: It's called Deep Love: A Ghostly Folk Opera, and Ryan wrote it after he had gone through some personal trauma in his life. He came to me with it about three-and-a-half years ago and he first said, "I want to write a rock opera." And I said, "Good luck with that!" Because I thought that's just a huge thing, a big undertaking, and I'm always kind of skeptical when people tell me that they're going to do something really big like that. Anyway, so he comes back to me six months later and he has me listen to the songs, and I thought they were phenomenal. I immediately wanted to be part of it. Fortunately, in the same breath, he asked me if I wanted to be part of it and I said yes, and since then we've been doing it together. It's basically: Imagine a rock concert in a graveyard in the 1800s, and that's pretty much what this show is.

YAHOO! MUSIC: Sounds awesome. "The Voice" has had some big spectacle performances before, with lots of costumes, dancers, props, and elaborate sets. Any plans to incorporate elements of rock opera into Midas Whale's "Voice" performances?

JON: Probably not. The rock opera is specifically created to be exactly that, but we as a duo are not a rock opera--we're a folk duo.

RYAN: Hey, speak for yourself! If they have a giant flaming head of a mummy or something like that, and they can burst through the wall--I'm all for that!

YAHOO! MUSIC: Ha. Sounds rad to me! So some purists don't like it when a "Voice" contestant is someone who's had previous professional experience, or has competed on another talent show, because they think the contestants should be total unknowns. How do you feel about that criticism?

RYAN: I actually think singers with experience lend the show more credit!

JON: Yeah, I feel like it makes for a better musical experience. If I turn on the TV at night and I'm listening to a really cool song, I don't care who it's from. I think the mistake of a reality singing show that takes only amateurs that they're taking what I would call "unbaked bread." To make it an analogy of baking, would you take cookies out of the oven before they're done? I think that sometimes if you take an amateur or somebody that hasn't been doing it for a long time, even if they have a lot of raw talent, if you give them their shot really early on and it doesn't work out for them, that doesn't necessarily mean they're bad, it just means that they might need a little more time to figure it out and work on things. I think that that's a mistake that other shows sometimes make.

YAHOO! MUSIC: So would you say you are more "baked" now that you were on "Idol," Jon?

JON: I am so baked right now! [laughs] I would say that when I was on "Idol," I most certainly wasn't ready for the experience that came to me. I hadn't really thought much about being in the music business. I hadn't done much preparation for it, and I didn't really know what I was getting into. And I hesitate to say some of these things, because I don't want in any way to sound ungrateful. But I will say a lot of things came fast and furious that I wasn't really necessarily prepared for, nor did I truly really appreciate them when they came along. And I think working at my craft for the last 10 years has given me a different perspective, obviously, than I had back then.

YAHOO! MUSIC: Ryan, do you have any reality-TV background? Or, if not, is Jon letting you know what you're in for now, since he has experience with this sort of thing?

RYAN: This is very new to me; I'm not the type that does this sort of thing to myself! I'm kind of a secretive person--I don't like to lean out there too far! But I do feel a lot of comfort having Jon here. I mean, he's been through it before, and apart from that, he's nice! So that's fun. And he's kind of just been helping me slowly, every step of the way, to settle in. I think Jon knows when I'm feeling uneasy about something or when I kind of want to turn and run and just go hide in the Rocky Mountains, and he's there to just say, "We can do this!" And he takes the attention away from me, so that I can feel at ease.

YAHOO! MUSIC: Jon, how has this "Voice" experience so far been different from your "Idol" experience?

JON: I'll tell you this: There are things that I love about "The Voice." I love that the contestants don't have to worry about somebody possibly making fun of them in front of all of the country--which, you know, has kind of been a format feature of most reality singing shows for the last 10 years. I think it's nice and really refreshing that you don't have to worry about that. I've felt "The Voice" has become very concerned about artist development, taking all the contestants and giving them as much training and equal opportunity as possible. It has been very, very, very, very fair in that aspect, and I've been very impressed. They're very concerned about the kind of music that comes out and the quality of music, and it just seems to me like a very good place for an artist to come and showcase him- or herself in front of the country, and the world.

YAHOO! MUSIC: What was more nerve-racking: auditioning in a private room in front of Simon Cowell, or in front of a live studio audience and the coaches' four spinning red chairs?

JON: Well, you know, there are a lot of things that a reality show does, a lot of interviews and lots of time in front of the camera, and lots of things that for me are probably not my favorite things to do, but are just kind of byproducts of being part of a TV show. So being in front of a crowd and being able to perform, that's kind of what Ryan and myself do well. That's where we feel most at ease: singing in front of an audience and having the audience respond to our music. I really enjoyed being in front of an audience and having that kind of interaction--so yeah, "The Voice" was easier.

YAHOO! MUSIC: So when you auditioned, all four judges' chairs turned for you. Why did you guys pick Adam Levine as your coach?

RYAN: There's a lot that happens that's not shown on TV, and there was a lot of [un-aired] dialogue that we had with Adam in which he really made it clear that he understood us. When Jon mentioned Mumford & Sons, Adam was like, "You know, what that's exactly what I have envisioned for you guys." What I kind of like about Adam is he sees people for what they are, instead of what he can make them into. I kind of went in thinking maybe Blake [Shelton] would be the best option, but he really didn't make a case for himself. The first question he asked us was, "What genre are you guys?" And I kind of wanted to say, "Do you have cotton balls in your ears?" I thought that Adam just displayed a much better understanding of what we were from the beginning. When we were onstage, he said, "I would buy your album"--that was part of the dialogue that wasn't shown on TV--and since then, he's really shown that he is a fan. And that's what I like about Adam: He's genuinely a fan of everybody that's on his team.

YAHOO! MUSIC: So what do you envision for yourselves moving forward on "The Voice"? What sort of songs do you want to cover?

JON: We honestly just want to do the songs that we love. The two of us really aren't cover musicians--in fact, Ryan, beyond his own music, doesn't really know much about other stuff! Like, when we talk about playing music, he always just kind of refers back to a lot of the songs he's written. But you know, there's probably a core group of artists that we both really are in love with, and the game plan for us is to do those songs. We love the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel, and old country too, like Buck Owens. Just doing these songs that we really like and possibly maybe throwing in some modern songs as well, with a twist. We've got a lot of ideas running through our brains.

YAHOO! MUSIC: Ryan, if you're largely unfamiliar with music other than your own, aren't you worried about competing on a show that will require you to do cover songs?

RYAN: I wouldn't say that it worries me. Maybe in the beginning it did, but I have confidence in our abilities to arrange a song in a way that we feel comfortable with, no matter what it is. I'm confident that we can do whatever they want us to, and secondly, I have confidence in the "Voice" production team; what they do isn't done haphazardly. They've been extremely sensitive to who we are and have chosen very carefully, from what they can clear for TV, to give us [good material]. And you know, if they give us something that seems daunting, I'll just take comfort in the fact that they've been right before, and I'm just going to roll with what they give me and put my own spin on it.

YAHOO! MUSIC: When you guys auditioned for "The Voice," you mentioned that duos don't usually go far on this show, but you want to be the ones to change all that. Why do you think duos haven't historically done well on "The Voice," and how will it be different for you?

JON: I would say duos have a harder time because it's just more of a challenge to find music that's suitable for a duo. I mean, there are far more songs that are for solo singers. But here's my thought about duos: Just because it hasn't happened before, doesn't mean it can't happen. Being in a duo is only a disadvantage historically on this show, but I don't think it is in fact a disadvantage; I feel like it's a great strength to have somebody else to play off of onstage, to have two voices and to be able to use dynamics. You've got twice as many possibilities, and I think the field is wide open to be the first duo that goes far. I think that would be remarkable if we could do that, and obviously that would be our goal: to not only advance to the finals, but win. I mean, we're just as competitive as anyone else out here, in that we'd like to win. But on top of that, we'd also like to just make great music for people week in and week out, and hopefully we'll get that opportunity. Many great bands got their break on television shows, as early as the '60s. I mean, think of the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show": They were able to kind of say, "Oh, this is the Cute One, this is the Happy One," whatever. They all had names for each other, and it was kind of like boy-band marketing, so to speak.

YAHOO! MUSIC: Okay, then--so who's the Cute One in Midas Whale?

RYAN: Um, no comment!

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