Austin native shines on NBC’s “The Voice”
Reid Umstattd on rediscovering his passion for music
by Margaret Williams
Reid Umstattd has been singing and performing for years but admits to being in uncharted waters as a contestant on Season 14 of NBC’s The Voice. It’s not every day millions of viewers tune in to see both Alicia Keys and Adam Levine battle it out to have you on their team – Umstattd ultimately selected Levine.
The 6th generation Austinite and Austin High School grad first began pursuing music as lead singer of the band Nelo. Nelo took Umstattd from the University of Texas to Athens, Georgia and back to Austin, where in 2007 the band signed with Pedernales Records and recorded at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studios. Despite the band’s success, by 2014 the newly married musician felt ready for a change and decided to begin working with his wife, Jena Karam’s, family restaurant Waterloo Ice House.
While Umstattd enjoyed being a part of the family business it didn’t take him long to realize how much he missed singing. Cue Lisa Fletcher of Arlyn Studios, who had previously managed Nelo and was very familiar with Umstattd’s talent. Fletcher turned out to be his musical fairy godmother when she suggested his name to Voice casting agents in the summer of 2017.
Fast-forward to present day and Umstattd is quite literally battling it out weekly on the NBC hit. Most recently, he and fellow contestant Davison sang Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” as part of the show’s battle round. Fans all throughout Austin rejoiced when Levine announced Umstattd as the winner. Now in the show’s third round, Umstattd feels nothing but appreciation for all the support he has received both locally and nationally.
We sat down with the Austin native so he could explain what it feels like to know millions are watching and how he managed to keep such a big secret over the past few months.
Margaret Williams: Can you back up and explain what the last few months have been like? How did you even decide to start this process?
Reid Umstattd: Yeah, it’s been more than a few months. It actually all began last summer. Three or four things happened within the span of a couple of days. It ended up just being sort of cosmic, like somebody’s telling me to do this.
Jena had a couple of friends in town who just wouldn’t stop asking me to get back into singing. They knew that I loved it. I don’t see those girls very often and they both were really insistent. Around that same time, I also got an email from Lisa Fletcher. She gets emails from casting agencies whenever they come through Austin. She had sent them to me before but I had always said no.
RU: Well, originally I was still a part of Nelo and it just didn’t make sense since the show is geared towards a solo career. And then later a part of me worried…[trails off]. I don’t know something stupid like I would lose all my street cred.
Looking back I wish I had gone for it four years ago, but I wasn’t in the right headspace. After I left the band I really thought that I wanted to stop music all together. But after a few years of doing other stuff I was in a rut professionally. I just missed singing and performing a lot.
MW: Okay, so after Lisa reached out and you decided to throw your name in the hat when did the auditions actually start?
RU: Last October  I flew out to Los Angeles for the blind audition…the chair turning audition. I made it through that one and then I went back in January .
MW: Have you felt pressure performing, but also having this whole life going on that not a lot of people know about?
RU: That part has been really fun. Jena, my family, and I have been able to just enjoy having this exciting secret.
The performance part is such a unique, foreign experience. No matter how big a crowd you’ve played for, there’s nothing like this…Your mind can run wild with how many people are going to eventually see it. You just have to immediately stop thinking about that. So then, it’s just the pressure of the moment. There’s people there that are just deciding the future of your life.
You can also just blow it all off and convince yourself that it’s just a reality TV competition.
MW: But it seems like it hasn’t felt that way to you…
RU: Not at all. It feels really important.
So, the performances have been a mixture of total terror and fear, and fun. The problem I’ve been having is I’m so out of shape.
MW: What do you mean by that? Your voice?
RU: Voice shape, vocal shape. I hadn’t been singing in so long that I just wasn’t where I wanted to be vocally. I was nervous about how it was going to sound, if my voice was going to crack, or if I wasn’t going to be able to hit the notes in the way that I wanted to.
MW: What about the people you’ve been auditioning with and the ones on your team? Have you spent a lot of time together?
RU: Overall, it’s been so cool meeting new people. It’s a serious bonding experience for everybody that’s involved. Then the working with the coaches has been really cool, too. They make everything feel very natural. It’s been really cool to work with him [Adam Levine].
It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done. It’s just so fun.
MW: What was it like when Adam turned around that first time?
RU: I didn’t remember any of it because I was so anxious about getting it right. So, watching it back on TV was really helpful because it kind of released the memories. All of it started coming back to me.
It was crazy. You get up to complete silence. They don’t tell anybody your name because they want it to be as fair as possible.
Luckily both Alicia [Keys] and Adam turned around quickly. I think I would have crumbled into a little pile on the ground if they hadn’t turned around in the first 20 seconds.
MW: What has the support around Austin been like?
RU: It really means a lot. I called to make a dentist appointment yesterday and the receptionist is a Voice watcher and recognized my name. So, little stuff like that’s been really cool. And the watch parties around town have been awesome.
It feels really good, the love and support. You never really realize how many people care about you until something like this happens.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
The Voice airs every Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. on NBC