Car horns blasted each time Ian Flanigan appeared on the big screen at the Cantine Memorial Sports Complex, as the finals of The Voice talent competition aired on Tuesday night, December 16.
Flanigan, who grew up in Saugerties and now lives on the road in a camper van, ended up in third place in the final round that included the winners of a season’s worth of smaller competitions. The coach/judges who rated the performances all commented on Flanigan’s unusual voice, which combined a gravelly country sound with a range that is rare among male country singers.
The competition, which primarily featured popular music, much of it with a country flavor, included both originals and covers. In addition to performances in front of the judges, the program included videos of Flanigan playing and singing a variety of songs, along with statements from friends and fans, some of whom shared memories that went back to his high school days. “We’ve been fans of yours for years now,” said one. “We’ve been following your career, and we’re so happy that you’re showing your talent.”
The competition meant separation from his companion, Ayla Rector, and daughter, Kamea. They all live in a recreational vehicle and travel to gigs throughout the country. In one of his on-air interviews, Flanigan said at some point he would like to buy a house and settle down.
When the dust settled and the winners of the season’s series of were announced, Flanigan placed third. First place went to 14-year-old Carter Rubin, followed by Jim Ranger in second place. Fourth place went to Desz, and fifth place to John Holiday.
The celebrity coaches’ comments centered on Flanigan’s vocal qualities. For instance John Legend told Flanigan, “We appreciate your voice, the distinct character that’s in the voice. No one I’ve heard sounds like you, and you do it so beautifully, so credibly. I love your story. I love the idea that you’ve been traveling around the country with your family, singing for whoever will listen. The fact that you love music so much, that it’s such a huge part of you life and such a huge part of your family’s life it’s very inspiring.”
Flanigan’s own coach, Blake Shelton, wondered whether Flanigan had come from the past or the future, because “there’s never been anyone who sounds like you, man, and even though you’re new, it’s iconic sounding. Thank you so much for bringing it to this show.”
At another point, he asked, “Where’s your beard, that’s supposed to go from here to there? Where’s your hat, your giant beer gut, all the stuff that goes along with that voice that you have?”
Flanigan performed his original song, “Never Learn,” a wish for young people to never have to experience the hardships in life while acknowledging their inevitability, drew sympathetic and admiring comments from the judges. The song speaks to the dilemma that all parents face -“how much do we want to teach them?” said John Legend. The song, and the comments, were contained in a reprise of the previous night’s show.
During another break, Flanigan was praised for not sounding like the polished country and pop singers whose records are on the charts. “Ian is not any one of those things,” the voiceover said. “He’s got an incredible voice. It’s not country pop, it’s not R&B pop, it’s not root notes, it’s Ian. It’s a little like Neil Young. This guy’s awesome, a great singer-songwriter, and I think this is a big break for him.”
Another speaker said that Flanigan is not just a talented musician, “but he is a very warm person; we all know that.”
Residents spoke of the relationship between Flanigan’s family and theirs, of their pride in seeing a hometown neighbor do well. Among the well-wishers were teachers he has had, going back to primary school.
One thing many of the people who spoke during the breaks from the show emphasized is the likelihood that the appearance on The Voice would, in time, propel Flanigan to a well-deserved stardom.
Flanigan has had a long relationship with Saugerties’ Hope Rocks festival, sponsored annually by Hope Rocks, an organization that provides services for addicts of drugs and alcohol and raises money for treatment through an annual festival and music events. While admission to the video broadcast of The Voice was free, the web page where attendees registered for tickets had a space for a donation to Hope Rocks.