Austin French took to the stage Sunday night on ABC's "Rising Stars" – and he nailed it.
The 20-year-old worship pastor from Tifton auditioned in Atlanta for the show after a producer saw him on season two of "The Voice," and encouraged him to try out for the new show. Sunday night was his first performance.
Singing "Georgia On My Mind," French said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon that his nerves were on his mind.
"It was so much fun. It was nerve-racking, but it was like the World Series for singers. Only a few lucky people get to experience it. I felt blessed to be on that stage," he said. "It was very intimidating at first. The nerves were definitely there, but I just had to picture myself in my room, just by myself, and just kind of go for it, and put it all out there."
Performers enter the stage and stand before a wall, and voters who have downloaded a free app (http://abc.go.com/shows/rising-star) can vote in real time. Once the voting percentage reaches at least 70, the wall goes up, and the performer can see the live audience and vocal experts Ludacris, Kesha and Brad Paisley. The live voting allows the performer to get immediate feedback on his or her performance.
Garnering more than 80 percent, French said when the wall went up he was fighting his emotions.
"I was trying to fight tears and everything that was going on inside of me. I still had more to go, so I had to push myself a little harder to get through the rest of the song," he said.
Once that wall did go up, French said there were two very special people he focused on in the audience – his mom, Kim French, and fiancee, Joscelyn Marshall.
"Knowing my biggest fans were sitting on the sideline watching was incredible, especially when that wall went up and I could see their reactions. This is what they've been dreaming about as well. It was awesome to see how excited they were and how happy they were," he said.
French's performance did garner a bit of criticism, although all three vocal experts cast positive votes. But French said he'll take that criticism and use it to make himself better as an artist.
"I can learn from it. They know what they're talking about. I respect everything they said," he said. "I want to get better and be the best that I can be. So the criticism? I don't think it's a bad thing. It's a growing thing. It will help me move on in the competition, and also as an artist."
He added that he's enjoyed meeting the vocal experts, as well as show host, worldwide singing sensation Josh Groban, who has made quite the impression on French.
"Meeting Josh has just been incredible, knowing he's been there and done that. I've been a huge fan of his for a long time, and to listen to his critique and hear his excitement for us. He's a cool guy. He's a real guy. He wants to see us succeed, and you can tell that in his mentorship," he said.
French said he will perform again in two to three weeks, during the dual rounds. The show runs for 10 weeks straight, and after this Sunday's show airs, the dual rounds will begin, and will help to whittle the artists down to a top 12. The winner will receive a recording contract.
During the dual rounds, French will be paired with another artist, and they will compete for the highest score.
"I definitely need everyone to vote then, because if the person I'm competing against gets a percent higher, then I get eliminated," he said.
Journey Church, where French is on staff, held a viewing party last Sunday night, and French said there were more than 100 people there, cheering him on as they watched him on the big screen. There will be another party at the church for his next performance as well, which will be open to the public. Watch The Gazette for details.
French is grateful for the support he's received from Tifton and the surrounding area.
"Thank you guys so much for voting for me, for raising the wall. Without you guys, this would not have been possible," he said. "I'm going to keep putting the Lord first, and asking you guys to pray with me on this journey, that I'll be bold to share the gospel with everyone that I meet."
As for his next performance, French said he'll be ready.
"Let's do this. Let's raise the wall again."
To contact editor Angye Morrison, call 382-4321.