This summer, Oceanside resident and business owner Jonathan Rizzo found himself onstage in Los Angeles, singing before celebrity judges Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson and John Legend.
But the famous singers’ backs were turned — Rizzo, 34, was giving a blind audition for NBC’s singing competition “The Voice.”
“There’s a whole wardrobe and makeup team, which is pretty crazy,” he recalled. “You basically are waiting your turn backstage, and you can hear everyone else going, so it’s super nerve-wracking.”
Rizzo was one of 40,000 people who entered the competition to appear on “The Voice” with a private audition in February. After advancing to executive auditions, then into the top 100, he finally made it to “the blinds,” the prime-time televised auditions of 85 singers. At these auditions, the judges sit with their backs to the singers. Each performer hopes one of the judges will slam the big red button that turns his or her chair around and signals that the contestant has advanced.
“When it’s your turn, they call you up to the door,” Rizzo recounted. “They say, ‘OK, walk up there.’ There’s a live audience out there of about 500 people, and you just go. While you’re doing your thing, you’re trying to not to pay attention and see if they turn around. My parents, my sister, my cousin, they’re all right there, and you know your parents are freaking out, but you try to maintain your composure.”
Rizzo poured everything he had into Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Let Her Cry,” accompanying himself on guitar. None of the judges hit the button, but Rizzo said he has “no regrets.”
Shelton, a country star who has been a judge on “The Voice” since its inception in 2011, said that Rizzo “gave us a vocal carbon copy of Darius Rucker” — Hootie and the Blowfish’s lead singer — “but it was too tribute-y.” Nonetheless, Shelton encouraged Rizzo to audition again in the future.
“I’m definitely going to go after it again,” Rizzo said. “It was an awesome experience, and I’m grateful for it. If I get the opportunity to do it again, I’ll go in with the same attitude and a little bit more knowledge. It wasn’t my day, but next time maybe it will be.”
On the show, Rizzo spoke about his father, Paul Rizzo, who helped spark his lifelong love of music. The two play acoustical guitar together three nights a week at restaurants in Oceanside and Long Beach, and also perform in a seven-piece, classic rock and ’90s band called Then and Now.
In addition, Rizzo plays in his own band, Empire Radio. He also runs a wedding and event business, J-Riz Entertainment and Productions, on Long Beach Road, and coaches Oceanside High School’s varsity hockey team with his dad.
“It’s cool — it brings me super-close to my dad,” Rizzo said. “We both love hockey. We love music. He didn’t push me. I just fell in love with the same things he did.”
“When he was little, I would rehearse with my band in a studio in my basement,” Paul recalled, “and he would sit down on the steps in his pajamas and watch us play.”
Although he hoped to see his son advance in “The Voice,” the experience in Los Angeles was “unbelievable — you open your eyes to what goes on when it’s for real,” Paul said. “It was fantastic for him. It was a really proud moment for me and my family.”
Along the way to his audition, Jonathan made many musical friends, he said. Through one connection, he scored a gig in Nashville, Tenn., for New Years Eve. But his favorite part of the journey was having his parents flown out to Los Angeles to be on the show with him. “Seeing my parents, watching them go through the experience with me, that was really cool,” he said. “I knew how proud they were of me.”
When he returned to Oceanside, his family, friends, bandmates and hockey players all showed him enormous support, he said. On Sept. 30, the night he appeared on “The Voice,” he and 20 family members — he has a large Italian family, he noted — gathered at his house to watch it.
“I came home and I was proud of myself,” he said. “If I make it that far [again], I’ll be smarter about a few things, but you’d never know unless you go through the experience once.
“The attitude, the focus I had,” he added. “I’d do it the same.”