For the next two weeks, Collin McLoughlin—who has spent the last year honing his craft from his childhood bedroom in Bedford—will be taking advice from music superstars Adam Levine and Mary J. Blige.
"It's already been absolutely amazing," McLoughlin said in a phone interview this week about the coaching he's received through his appearances on the reality singing competition, The Voice. "I've learned so much about myself and about music. They've affirmed my choice for what I'm doing with my life. It's really a dream come true."
McLouglin, 24, is still on a high after receiving attention from three of the four judges on the reality singing competition. Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green, and Adam Levine each praised his performance but McLouglin chose "Team Levine" for the "battle rounds," when team members face off against each other to sing the same song together in front of a studio audience.
Then the coaches must choose which of his or her singers will advance to the live stage shows. The winner of the show receives a recording contract with Universal Republic Records.
It's a long way to go—but for McLoughlin, there's already great validation of the long road he traveled get to this moment.
"I've been working for years on my music," said the former Bedford Village Elementary School student, who later picked up his first guitar at the Rippowam Cisqua School.
He added that he spent the last 12 months on a strict schedule back in his hometown, after leaving graduate school to pursue a career in the industry. He began his 10-hour work days no later than 7 a.m., plugging away until he and his mother headed out for an early-bird dinner special at a rotating roster of restaurants in Bedford.
And what was he doing, toiling away in his home-based music studio?
"Whatever I felt would promote my music and help me connect with fans," he said. "In a way, I benefited from having no experience in a brick-and-mortar music industry. I spent a lot of time marketing myself on YouTube."
McLoughlin recorded a series of cover songs by artists ranging from Adele to Lil Wayne to Gavin McGraw and posted them on YouTube. At the end of each video, he plugged his 2011 album release, Chasing Dreams. When it came out, he cracked the number two slot on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart.
And he amassed an increasing number of fans through his website, Facebook and Twitter. And eventually, he garnered the attention of The Voice's producers, who suggested he audition for the show. There were auditions and interviews in New York before his whole family headed out to Los Angeles in June to tape the show that aired in September.
His mother, freelance writer Nancy McLoughlin, said the experience was surreal, "like how you feel when a plane is taking off—here we go!" she said. "I know what sports moms feel like now—I couldn't help but scream when the judges turned around!"
When asked if she was disappointed he had left New York University's Steinhardt School of Music Management to pursue a career in music, she replied, "technically, he's on a leave of absence." In fact, she added, the day after the show aired, the Dean of Students there emailed Collin to express the school's support. Mostly, she said, she was proud of his dedication and hard work at achieving his dream.
McLoughlin describes his sounds as acoustic-based, though his newest project has a faster tempo and a modern beat. He said he selected Cat Stevens "Wild World" for his audition because he hoped to tap into a wide viewership—though it was a "risky" choice, he acknowledged, with none of the "vocal acrobatics" of some of the other auditions.
The risk obviously paid off, and McLoughlin is enjoying the next phase of the show. With a schedule that has pulled him away from his hometown, what does he miss about Bedford, other than the early-bird specials?
"I do miss the open fields, and driving on back roads," he said. "Bedford was a great place to grow up and gave me access to opportunities that helped shape who I am."