By Elaine Strauss
In the spring, Ben Taub took a chance on his singing by entering the auditions for NBC’s talent reality show “The Voice” and it paid off with odds at the order of more than 1,500 to one.
The aspiring vocalist made it to the show and got the chance to perform on national TV. Although he was eliminated from the competition Oct. 16, he can look back now on a one-of-a-kind experience that may yet kindle a musical career.
With no formal voice training, Taub auditioned for the show because he thought it would be fun. In the end, he found he learned a lot about himself.
“During the course of the show, I learned that I was far more serious about singing than I thought,” he says. “I wanted to dive into the music that I really care about — a cross between jazz and soul.”
In early October, he began his first ever voice lessons. A philosophy major at Princeton University, Taub decided to take a leave of absence rather than to finish his senior year in 2013, in order to investigate distractions from his academic major.
Speaking by cell phone as he rode to Pittsburgh as a passenger, Taub described his journey as a contestant on The Voice, a show in which four established pop music stars coach teams of singers in the hope of helping them win the competition.
The show is a TV ratings leader. For 2011 and the beginnings of the 2012 season, The Voice drew the largest number of viewers in the 18-49 age group. Taub was one of the roughly 100,000 aspirants who auditioned for the show. He was among the 45,000 who chose the live auditions; the other 55,000 auditioned by submitting a video.
“The nice thing about the in-person audition is that you know what’s going on immediately,” he said. “You sing for few seconds in front of a live audience. Nine out of 10 of the singers are told, ‘Thank you for coming.’”
One out of 10 is called back to perform before three or four panelists. Those contestants prepare three songs, then the music and an interview are taped and judged by executive producers in Los Angeles.
From the 10,000 hopefuls who are called back, just 250 are chosen to appear in front of the executive producers of the show. That happened in May, during Taub’s final exams. “My math teacher allowed me to do my final exam by Skype from my hotel room in L. A,” he said.
The executive producers select150 contestants from the group of 250 to appear on television in a blind audition, which is the first phase to be shown on television. There, the field of 150 is reduced to 64 as the judge-coaches — Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton — each select a team of 16 singers.
The coaches sit in high-back chairs facing away from the contestants. Neither competitors nor coaches can see each other. The coaches’ decisions are based solely on the quality of the voices.
“When the coaches want you, they press a button, the chair spins around, and then you see their face,” Taub said. “You decide which coach you will work with if more than one coach chooses you.”
Taub’s blind audition aired Sept. 18. Both Green and Shelton chose him.
“I always have been a fan of Cee Lo,” Taub said. “If all four had turned around, I would have chosen him.”
The second televised phase is the battle round, where members of each team compete against fellow team-members. The competing pairs sing the same songs at the same time, and their coach chooses one to continue in the competition.
Taub’s battle round was televised on Oct. 16. In it, he faced off with Mycle Wastman. At the end, Wastman was the one chosen to advance, and Taub was eliminated. He was one of 64 out of 100,000 to have lasted as long as he did.
The battle round was taped in August, but as a contestant, Taub was not permitted to talk about it until it aired. He said Cee Lo Green, pleased with his chosen team of 16, took the group to Las Vegas to tape a Christmas show.
“He wants to keep the team together,” Taub says.
Ever resilient, Taub was driving to Pittsburgh for a recording session the day after the airing of his last episode. His friend and colleague, a bass player, was at the steering wheel. The two will record new music with a jazz combo.
“We’re not improvising the entire thing,” Taub says. “It’s slightly more scripted. We’re going to be writing the music in the next three days, and we’ll record it the day after. We have a rough idea of what we’ll write. We’ve worked together before.”
During the next few months, Taub also plans to work with a music producer who was a visiting professor at Princeton last semester. The two expect to write, produce and record music.
Besides singing, Taub is attracted by journalism. He expects to return to Princeton and graduate with the class of 2014.
In the course of his leave of absence from Princeton Taub expects to explore a career in journalism seriously by returning to Morocco, where he spent time earlier in 2012.
He worked for a nongovernmental agency in Rabat, the capital, writing articles on a free-lance basis. His articles appeared in September in LatitudeNews, a web publication, and in Nassau Weekly, a print publication run by Princeton students.
As a student at Princeton High School, Taub played oboe in the orchestra. He said he did classical music until he started singing when he was 14 or 15.
Asked about the connection between oboe and singing, he said, “The oboe takes melodic lines. Both oboe and singing require breath control. Oboe gave me an understanding of musical phrasing, which influenced my singing.”
His formal piano lessons stopped when he was eight. “I play well enough to accompany my singing,” he said.
Taub was brought up with classical music. He is the son of pianist Robert Taub, the first Artist in Residence at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, expert on Beethoven, and an advocate of new music. Currently, Robert is devoting himself to his software enterprise, “MuseAmi,” which can be tracked down online.
“I had the privilege of hearing my father practice while I was growing up,” son Ben said. “Partly my music is genetic. My father has perfect pitch, and so do I.”
Asked about his reaction to Ben’s musical goals, which lie outside the classical canon, father Robert said in a telephone conversation, “We support all of our kids fully in their career aspirations. Ben is a very musical young man. He is a thoughtful person who gives full consideration to any decision he makes. He has the capability to evaluate, adjust and adapt to any situation he faces.”
The third and final televised phase of The Voice airs in November. Eventually, television viewers will vote for a single winner. The show is based on a Dutch reality-based television show called The Voice of Holland. It aired in the United States for the first time in April 2011.
To see videos and photos of Ben Taub participating in the show, go online to nbc.com/the-voice.