When TV’s “The Voice” returned for its fifth season this week, Memphis native Kris Thomas was back where he had been earlier this year before making an impressive run on the hit NBC singing competition — on the couch watching.
“If I had to give this season’s contestants any advice, I’d say don’t go on the Internet while you’re on the show,” says Thomas, one of four Memphians to compete in the show’s fourth season. “When people rally behind a particular artist, they can say really mean things about the other artists. You want to go online and see what people are saying. But while there’s a lot of good reviews, there’s always going to be those really, really negative comments, and those sometimes get to you if you tune in to that stuff.”
Although Thomas and his fellow Memphians — including Visible Music College student Sarah Simmons, with whom he “really bonded” — ultimately lost to 16-year-old country singer Danielle Bradbery, the 27-year-old Stax Music Academy graduate says the experience has him poised to take his career to the next level. Earlier this month, Thomas released a new single with an EP to come later in the fall, and on Saturday he makes his first post-“Voice” hometown concert appearance when he headlines the Mid-South Fair’s main stage at 8 p.m.
“There’s been a whole lot of new opportunities that have come from ‘The Voice,’ and the exposure was priceless. It’s a great feeling to have people know you all over the world,” says Thomas, who leaves in November for a tour of Southeast Asia. “The show still seems kind of like a blur. It was a little overwhelming at times. To go from being an independent artist trying to do gigs and then to be thrust in the national spotlight was a little bit of shell shock at first.”
Though it happened quickly, Thomas has been preparing for that spotlight for a long time. The son of Alvin Fleming, pastor of Morning View Baptist Church in Arlington, he began singing in church, wowing the rest of the choir when, at age 14, he was forced to take his first lead as punishment for laughing at other kids in rehearsal. A year later, he joined Stax Music Academy, working his way up to lead vocalist for the school’s StreetCorner Harmonies group.
Thomas went to college at Middle Tennessee State University, and after graduation he signed a Nashville management deal. While honing his songwriting and performing, Thomas first came to national attention in 2011 when he was plucked from obscurity to sing with country singer Pam Tillis on the Memphis-centric single “Two Kings,” about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Elvis Presley.
That attention was dwarfed, however, by “The Voice,” which Thomas earned his way onto by singing a remarkably faithful version of Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You.” Thomas made it three weeks into the show’s live playoffs before being eliminated.
Thomas had just left the show when his management sent him a new song to record. Released earlier this month, “Balloons” is a haunting, piano-driven track that combines the singer’s roots in the classic R&B of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway with a soaring modern-pop edge.
Thomas has since raised more than $10,000 in a Kickstarter campaign that ends Saturday to fund a five-song EP, Back Into Your Heart, for release possibly in November.
“It’s leaning more toward the pop-song kind of sound,” Thomas says of the recording. “Songs about love and relationships. It’ll have some songs with positive messages. It’s going to be a feel-good album, hopefully one that can appeal to all demographics.”
In the meantime, Thomas feels good about performing again before a hometown crowd. He visits his family frequently, but his show with his friends in the Memphis band Trump Tight backing him will be his first since his stint on “The Voice.” And the fact that it comes at the Mid-South Fair, where he recalls seeing such influential artists as K-Ci & JoJo and Ginuwine growing up, makes it all the more meaningful.
“I never would have thought I’d be on the same stage I saw them perform on, so I’m super excited. It’s going to bring back a lot of good memories,” Thomas says before admitting that his favorite part of the fair is more culinary than musical.
“Smoked turkey legs,” he said. “That’s what I really look forward to, and I’m going to get one Saturday.”
8 p.m. Saturday at the Mid-South Fair, which runs through Sunday at the Landers Center, 4560 Venture Drive, Southaven. Hours: noon-midnight Fridays-Saturdays, noon-10 p.m. Sunday, 4-10 p.m. Monday-Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets: $10, $5 children 5-12 and seniors 55 and older. Children 4 and younger free. Tickets available at the gate and through Ticketmaster. 901-274-8800. Visit midsouthfair.org for a complete schedule and more information.