Greenville singer finds ‘The Voice’

Greenville NewsMay 4, 2014 

Delvin Choice, center, sang in the Centre Stage production of “Rock ’n Roll Forever” last year. Now he’s a finalist on NBC’s “The Voice.”

HEIDI HEILBRUNN — Greenville News

It’s become something of a routine now for Hennie Choice and her husband, Willie, one they hope will continue for many more weeks.

After church on Sundays they board a flight at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport bound for Los Angeles, where they’ll spend the better part of two days at NBC Universal Studios in Burbank. They’ll sit in what’s known as the hot seats. They’ll be on national television. Live.

“My husband loves it. I, not so much,” Mrs. Choice said of the national television exposure.

But she does love why they’re there. They are the parents of Delvin Choice, one of the eight remaining contestants in the NBC show “The Voice.” He’s the guy with the booming voice tailor-made for “Porgy and Bess,” the one who turned up in the early shows with the hairstyle he called the lobster, the one who sports an ascot.

For Hennie Choice, her son’s success thus far is a true blessing, but not just because he’s living his dream. It’s also because of the journey he’s taken to get there.

“He’s had ADHD all his life,” she said. “He hasn’t heard a lot of positive things throughout his childhood in school. Now he has found his niche.”

Delvin Choice, 24, was selected to be coached by all four judges — Blake Shelton, Usher, Shakira and Adam Levine — and he chose Levine, who recently has made public service announcements about his life with ADHD.

Mrs. Choice thinks the disability has enabled Levine, the lead vocalist for Maroon 5, to better understand how her son works.

Delvin Choice graduated from Greenville’s Fine Arts Center and Wade Hampton High School in 2008 and has appeared in several Greenville Little Theatre productions, beginning with “Ain’t Misbehavin’” when he was a senior in high school.

Choice attended Coastal Carolina University for one semester, but Allen McCalla, artistic director at the Little Theatre, said Choice is the sort of performer who just needs to go for it, and a show like “The Voice” is the perfect vehicle.

Mrs. Choice said her son has, until now, had three music mentors — his father, his grandmother Sudie Mae Choice, who was his first choir director, and Michael Rice, the beloved voice teacher at the Fine Arts Center who died in 2011.

Mrs. Choice said she wishes Rice could see where her son is now.

“It is a huge loss for our family. He was family. He still is family,” she said.

Even after Delvin graduated, Rice would provide piano accompaniment for him and encourage him. He’s the one who suggested Delvin try out for “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” which McCalla said ushered Delvin into the theater family.

Mrs. Choice said her son draws strength from his memories of Rice.

“He knows what Mr. Rice wanted for him and he can pull energy from that sad thing,” she said. “Thank God he knows how to draw from what he’s been told and push through the pain.”

Her husband, too, has served as a musical mentor. The plant engineer at Woodmont High School and pastor of a church in Abbeville played the part of The Teen Angel (played by Frankie Avalon in the movie version of “Grease”) in Woodmont High’s production a couple of years ago.

She said Delvin was in a play at Centre Stage at the same time, and she journeyed back and forth trying to see as many of both productions as possible.

Delvin, she said, came into the world singing.

“They didn’t have to slap him,” she said. “He was screaming already, a soprano wail they could hear throughout Greenville hospital.”

The first church her husband pastored was small, and so was the choir. The three of them performed together there and in other churches. Delvin was young. He sang soprano, she alto, her husband tenor. People were astounded so much music and harmony came from so few people.

Every so often, Mrs. Choice will find her husband and son around the piano in the foyer of their Simpsonville home harmonizing.

“I don’t care what we’re going through, we can reach back and get a song that’s uplifting, encouraging,” she said. “The very essence of music is life sustaining.”

More recently Delvin has performed regularly at NewSpring Church in Anderson with the worship band. Guitarist Preston Keepfer said Delvin’s energy on stage is contagious.

“He has this charisma about him,” Keepfer said.

Since her son has been in L.A., Mrs. Choice texts him every morning to keep him encouraged. “How’s your day?” she’ll say. The days are long and stressful. Lots of prerecorded video, rehearsal, meetings.

He will Facetime her, sometimes to sing the song he’s going to perform that week.

“What do you think?” he’ll ask.

And she’ll tell him. The unvarnished truth, the way only a mama can. Slight inflection here. Bit of something there.

But last week’s “Bright Lights, Big City” was a surprise.

“He had a lock on that one,” she said.

She enjoyed sitting in the audience as any other person, not knowing what was going to happen. Typically they’re picked up at the hotel and taken to the studio around 2:30 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays — show days. After all the family members are checked in, they’re taken to their seats usually between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., before other audience members. The live shows start at 5 p.m.

When it’s time for Delvin to perform they move to the hot seats, just released by the family of whoever performed before. The families have grown close, and when a contestant is eliminated they share in the sadness.

When the season began, the taped episodes involved the judges selecting who stays. During the live shows, which began April 21, viewers choose who remains by text message, phone, online or Facebook and buying the songs on iTunes. The number of purchases are the most important, Mrs. Choice said. The performer gets bonus points if the song makes the Top 200 singles chart.

It is nerve-racking, she said. Their fate is in the hands of hundreds of thousands of people they don’t know. Two performers are sent home each week.

The winner, to be announced May 20, receives $100,000 and a record deal from Universal Music Group. The next performance is at 8 p.m. Monday on NBC.

Mrs. Choice said early in the week she didn’t know what Delvin would sing.

Asked what she would like people to know about him, she said he is giving and sensitive. When he has down time, he often uses it to visit schools or perform at charity events. The last time he was in Greenville, between the time taping ended and the live shows began, he performed at fundraising events for the Fine Arts Center and for YAP, a program for foster children.

His father was a foster child from the time he was 3. The family who fostered him, the Choices, adopted him when he was a teen.

Delvin also visited schools with a simple message. Don’t give up on your dreams. Keep moving. No matter what someone else says. He is speaking most especially to children with ADHD.

“He’s the poster guy for those children and those parents,” Mrs. Choice said. “If you stick with your kid, build them up as they are torn down, they can make it.”

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