Taylor competes on NBC’s ‘The Voice’

VERNON. Eugene Steficek, now known as Gene Taylor, grew up listening to local radio and singing solos at church.

Vernon /
| 12 Mar 2024 | 05:00

Eugene Steficek was raised by a single mother in Vernon, and they did not have a lot of money. But she made sure that he and his sister had some musical enrichment in their lives.

“From a little child, he just blurted out musical tunes and (that) made him the little boy that he was. I’m just happy that he’s followed his heart,” said Delphine Steficek, who adopted him when he was abandoned in a hospital at 6 months old.

Now Eugene, known as Gene Taylor, is a contestant on the NBC television show “The Voice.”

Taylor, 33, received a four-chair turn from the coaches during “The Blind Auditions Part 2” episode of “The Voice” that aired Feb. 27.

He performed the 1978 Journey song “Lights” for coaches Reba McEntire, John Legend, Chance the Rapper and country pop duo Dan + Shay.

Taylor, who now lives in Brooklyn, explained on the show that when he was growing up, he listened to the Sussex County radio station 102.3 WSUS, which played songs by musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Kirk Franklin, the Eagles, Journey, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, the Police, Michael Jackson, Genesis, Prince and Rod Stewart.

He also listened to songs by Lauryn Hill, Linkin Park, Usher, Aaliyah and others who were popular in the 1990s and 2000s.

He still listens to Journey, Stevie Wonder, the Band and Linkin Park and also to newer artists, such as the Black Pumas, Paolo Nutini, Milky Chance and Honne.

In addition, he is a big fan of Leon Bridges and Stephen Sondheim. “My tastes are all over the place.”

When asked about his musical influences, Taylor mentioned Stevie Wonder, saying he is the be all and end all with his standard of songwriting and singing; Michael Jackson; and Lara Fabian, whom he called an unsung hero in this country and an incredible vocalist.

Steve Perry is his vocal idol because he was able to “marry R&B and rock with that incredibly high range with finesse, beauty and ease.” “I often say that I borrow from Perry 99 percent of the time.”

First solo in first grade

As a child, he was always singing and making sounds, Taylor said.

In the first grade, he sang with a trio and had his first solo. His church music leader found out about that performance and had Taylor sing all the small solos in church.

When he was 7 or 8 years old, he starting taking piano lessons, then started to write songs with some classmates.

When he started high school, he had a band with some of his friends. They would play in battle of the bands in local churches and youth groups.

By that time, he was writing music all the time. He picked up guitar and took lessons for a few years. Whenever he learned a new chord, Taylor told himself to write a song with that chord in it.

“Like every band soon discovers, you need a bass player,” so he bought a guitar at a garage sale and learned how to sing and play bass, soon discovering that’s what really makes him happy.

Taylor has had many jobs related to music or entertainment, including playing piano inside ShopRite Liquors in Franklin. At that time, he also was music director and workshop leader at Vernon United Methodist Church, where he made friends with many people and made many memories.

“I was able to really hone my skills there with countless band rehearsals and a quiet place to write songs,” he said about his time at the church.

Move to NYC

Taylor moved to New York City after he was booked for a national tour as an actor in “Man of La Mancha.” After the tour, he found his way onto cruise ships as a performer.

“The move to New York really forced me to focus on my craft because it has its unique challenges. I’ve played many a baby birthday party and kids music classes to eventually playing in the legendary Cafe Wha? band,” he said.

“It’s a tall order playing in New York and I want something more. ‘The Voice’ can allow that to happen. I’m a little nervous. I’ve never really done anything on this level so singing for these five coaches is massive.

“My mom has done so much for me, sacrificed so much for me. It would mean the world to me to get a chair turn to make her happy, to make her proud,” Taylor on the show before performing in the blind auditions.

He decided to audition for “The Voice” because he was feeling stagnant and had just gone through a breakup. “I needed to do something that would make me proud in myself. Self-doubt is a loud voice in a world of social media, and I really needed to get out of my own way and do something for myself musically and professionally.

“I wanted to do something tangible that I could look back on and say, ‘Wow, you really can do difficult things if you apply yourself.’ To get on the show, I practiced daily and made sure I was ready for this opportunity.”

Taylor had filled out a form to apply for “The Voice,” then forgot about it. The show’s representatives reached out a few years after he signed up, but he didn’t think the contact was legitimate.

“The Voice” staffers contacted Taylor again in 2022 and he submitted some videos. One was a song that was on his YouTube channel, a cover of “Take on Me” by Ah-ha that was recorded for a project called “Love Raptor.”

Blind auditions

During the blind auditions, the coaches’ chairs are turned so they do not see the contestant. If coaches like what they hear, they press a red button and their chairs turn to face the stage. The bottom of their chairs light up with the words “I/We Want You,” meaning they want the artist for their team. If more than one coach hits the button, the artist decides whose team to join.

The show is hosted by Carson Daly, who is off to the side with the artist’s friends and family members cheering them on.

About deciding to perform the song “Lights” during the blind auditions, Taylor said, “If anyone knows me, they know I’m a massive Steve Perry fan. The way the song sits in my voice is why I chose it.

“I do recall hearing the song quite a bit growing up, but the open vowels and the way I can use the legato line of the song really allows my voice to soar. It’s not necessarily an easy song by any means, it’s Steve Perry and nothing he does is easy, but if I’m warmed up and hydrated and in a good headspace, I can make it work.”

Although there are five coaches on Season 25 of “The Voice,” there are only four buttons. Dan + Shay have a double chair with only one button, which is a first for the show.

Legend turned his chair about 20 seconds into Taylor’s performance. Dan + Shay followed shortly after, then McEntire. Chance the Rapper was the last one, making it a four-chair turn.

When Taylor stopped singing, Legend said, “I’ve always loved a tenor that can sing those beautiful big notes, but also you had so much finesse. It was so expertly done as a vocalist.”

As part of his pitch for Taylor to join his team, Legend mentioned that none of the other coaches have won because they are new to the show. “I have won ‘The Voice’ and I am very confident that you and I working together as a team could go very far in this competition. I would love for you to be on Team Legend.”

Dan Smyers of Dan + Shay said, “You’re a star and we could tell you’re a seasoned pro. We would love to have you on the first team of Dan + Shay.”

Chance explained that he took a little longer to turn his chair around because he was “arrested in the performance” and because Taylor’s tone is different. “I’m just being honest with you. I think you’re going to go really far in this competition because you have a really distinct tone,” he said.

McEntire said, “The way you were working the crowd was perfect to go with your beautiful voice.”

Taylor said he chose Legend as his coach because “he turned around first and to me that was my main criteria.” ‘Whoever turns first believed in me first. He also gave an amazing pitch that I’ll always cherish. He listened to what he heard in my voice like the fact that I had a bit of classical training.

“The fact that he said that meant a lot because in my early 20s, I’d spend hours at not one but two voice teachers’ studios: Christopher ‘Chip’ King and Stan Dunn. These two teachers taught me technique that allowed my voice to grow exponentially and to stay healthy as well as to ‘Never sing louder than lovely.’

“In other words, they taught me bel canto technique, which means ‘beautiful singing’ and I’m a firm believer in practice and learning about the voice so one can stay ready for scenarios just like this. Singing on national TV, there is a lot of pressure that goes into it and technique is what gets you through.”

After Taylor decided to pick Team Legend, his coach said, “Gene came out there and dazzled us. His tone was just so interesting and cool and I heard a little soul in his voice too. He is exactly what I was looking for.”

If chosen as the winner of “The Voice,” who will receive a recording contract with Republic Records and a cash prize, Taylor plans to pursue a rock career. “I’m a rocker at heart. As much as I love soul and R&B, I feel the most alive in a rock band, playing bass and singing lead like McCartney or Rick James or Sting.

“I’d like to add that music is a healer, everyone can sing and, in these times, we need art the most. If you know of any independent artists, please support them by seeing their shows, please stream their music. The music industry is notoriously hard and I think it’s harder than ever.

“Live music is one of the few things we have left that we can see and still be moved by, and the local artists on stage are not making a lot of money doing this. It’s a risk to follow your dreams and ‘making it’ looks different to everyone. Comments like ‘Why aren’t you famous yet?,’ although they are questions that mean well, they can come across a bit painful simply because it’s not so simple.”

He added, “Other than that, practice, put yourself out there and take risks. If you leap, angels may come to your aid.”

Where to watch
“The Voice” airs on NBC at 8 p.m. Mondays and 9 p.m. Tuesdays and the show can be streamed on the Peacock app the next day.
Singing on national TV, there is a lot of pressure that goes into it and technique is what gets you through.”
- Gene Taylor, contestant on “The Voice”