All four of the hit show's celebrity coaches — Miley Cyrus, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Jennifer Hudson — wanted to work with Central College alumnus and West Des Moines worship leader Chris Weaver. Courtney Crowder/The Register
For most of his life on the stage, Chris Weaver has been known as either a worship leader at his church, someone who's not necessarily meant to stand out from the rest of the choir, or as Nedra Belle, his drag character.
On Monday's episode of "The Voice," Weaver, a 2010 Central College graduate, took the stage under a different persona — himself.
And the results were pretty spectacular: Weaver got the first four-chair turn of Season 13.
Weaver sang Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” in Monday night’s episode and his rendition got all four celebrity coaches — Miley Cyrus, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Jennifer Hudson — interested in working with him.
“You are the first person that has ever auditioned that is giving us an opportunity not the other way around,” Levine said. “You are a phenomenal singer, but you are even more special than that to me.”
For those who don’t watch the reality singing competition, which won its fourth Emmy earlier this month, “The Voice” features up-and-coming musicians auditioning for four superstar celebrity coaches. The musicians compete in challenges each week to try to win the title of The Voice.
The auditions are blind, so coaches are facing away from the contestants as they sing. Only when a coach decides he or she wants the singer on his or her team do they turn around and see the person behind the voice. The artist gets to choose the team they want to be on and the coach they want to work with from among those that turned their chair.
"This is where music should start from, the sound that you hear," said Blake Shelton. "Not the marketing, not the look, not the story, just the voice."
During his interview, Weaver said his mother is a Pentecostal preacher. While church is very important to the singer — he spent a few years as a worship coordinator at the Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines — finding a welcoming place of worship hasn't always been easy, he said.
"Church is still a huge part of my life, but growing up gay in the church, I felt like I was hiding who I really was," Weaver said. "The church I am in now is totally accepting."
A native of Long Island who now lives in New York City, Weaver also spoke about taking the stage as Nedra Belle, his drag persona. He said he enjoys transforming into this "gorgeous sassy woman" who hosts, lip-syncs and sings live when he is on stage.
In making her pitch to get Weaver on her team, Hudson said she could connect with his musical background of both church and drag.
"I grew up in church, church singing…and I would go and watch all the queens perform," Hudson said.
“Yes, you come from church, but God gave you that voice to sing far and beyond,” she continued. “I can help get you there here at team J-Hud.”
In a twist, Weaver revealed that he previously sang for Hudson at a party for "The Color Purple," which Hudson starred in on Broadway.
At that performance, she "threw at a shoe" at him, which is a compliment to many African-American church-goers.
"Growing up in the African-American church, if you get a shoe thrown at you, baby, you it," Weaver said.
After Weaver's performance of Otis Redding, Hudson threw another shoe at him.
In response, Weaver selected Hudson as his coach.
For someone who so rarely appears as himself, Weaver's blind audition experience was all the validation that he needed to know that the world is ready to see "who Chris really is."