Finding His Voice
Apr 02, 2015 11:28AM ● Published by Dia
Photography by Jamie Handy
Give a 9-year-old boy a guitar, and you might expect him to strum a few chords before moving on to the next thing that catches his eye. But when Cole Wilkinson’s dad, Chris, handed one to his son, he launched a dream—but first Cole had to prove how much he wanted it.
“My dad said he wouldn’t give me lessons until I taught myself a song,” Cole recalls. “I got the guitar and didn’t play it for a bit; I just let it sit there. And then I decided, I really want to do this.” So Cole started watching instructional videos and soon taught himself enough to impress his dad and in turn, convince him he was serious enough about his pursuit to take lessons. It worked.
Now age 17 and a junior in high school, Cole is well on his way to making it happen—he recently appeared as a contestant on season seven of the hit NBC show The Voice. The events leading up to his audition paved the path toward the artist Cole is today and the artist he hopes to become in the future.
Born in Grapevine and raised on a farm in Southlake, Cole saw himself as a performer for years,
and he wasn’t alone. Cole and his three younger brothers enjoyed music in their lives from an early age thanks to their mom, Robin—a skilled pianist, dancer and singer herself.
By kindergarten Cole was taking piano lessons, though, at the time, he didn’t enjoy or appreciate it. Now, he’s grateful that knowing how to play piano enables him to use more than one instrument when writing and playing new songs. “Once I learned to play guitar, I went back to piano,” Cole explains. “I thought it would be really cool if I could learn to play two instruments.”
With a love for rock music and an electric guitar in hand, Cole took on his dream full force—finding himself as a member of three different bands by age 11 and performing in gigs that brought him to stages as large as the one at the Dallas House of Blues. As Cole grew older, he enrolled in the DFW Performing Arts Conservatory in Southlake, and his musical style began to evolve. It wouldn’t be too long before he discovered his main talent and passion: singing and songwriting.
“I was in the rock scene; I went to Rock School,” Cole recalls. “But when I went to the performing arts school, everybody played acoustic guitar and was a singer/songwriter. It inspired me because at the time, I wasn’t singing at all.”
This epiphany propelled Cole to become a singer, something he once shied away from. But through his classes at the Southlake-based DFW Performing Arts Conservatory, Cole got his first taste of singing—and stage fright—since it was a required part of his education. “They make you do everything at the school, including dancing, singing and acting,” Cole says. “I was so shy at the time that I would beg my mom not to make me sing, and she would bribe me with new shoes!”
Luckily for his future fans, he has over 8,000 followers on Twitter, Cole faced his fears and took on the stage, quickly discovering that it was worth it in the end. “It was scary the first few times, but once I got on that stage, I knew I was supposed to be there,” Cole says. “I didn’t want to leave. It’s a lot different when you’re singing versus just playing guitar, because you have complete control of everything. You’re getting the crowd to do what you want, and you’re telling them what to do.”
With this newfound confidence came new opportunities, starting with a chance to join a new boy band. As the applicants were whittled down, Cole managed to make to the final eight auditioning in the United States. Though he didn’t make it into the group, the process introduced Cole to Septien Entertainment Group, a music school in Carrollton that focuses on vocal coaching, songwriting and instrumental lessons. Through this and his education from the DFW Performing Arts School and Southlake-based Hall Music Productions Cole became certain he wanted to pursue songwriting and singing as an artist. So with a new guitar in hand, now an acoustic one, he set out to become a star.
“A few years ago, my parents bought me my dream acoustic guitar, a Gibson Songwriter,” Cole says. “I never get tired of that guitar. To this day, I still love it. I love the sound, and the feel it has—it feels perfect to me.”
It’s this raw love for music that eventually caught the eye of talent scouts from The Voice, who contacted Cole through Facebook after spotting a YouTube video he had posted of an acoustic session in his band room. “The funny thing is, I don’t post on YouTube much,” Cole notes. “I don’t even have that many views. So they must have really been looking for something; I don’t know how they found me.”
Call it fate, great talent or simply good luck, but find him they did, and soon, Cole was heading to Houston for a scheduled audition for The Voice, just months after writing a song that implied he was on his way to stardom.
“The line in the song said, ‘Soon you’ll see me, me on national TV,’” Cole says. “I just never thought I’d get there that fast; it’s very exciting.” See Cole's appearance on The Voice at SouthlakeStyle.com.
Having passed the Houston audition to the Blind Auditions, Cole and his mom flew to Los Angeles for a month-long journey that would soon find him face-to-face with some of his idols, including his favorite judge Adam Levine. Given 300 songs to choose from, he was asked to pick his top 25 options for his Blind Audition. He put the song “Classic” by MKTO as his first choice—and when that was granted, he was thrilled.
“I thought I had it all figured out,” Cole recalls. “I thought, the judges will want an upbeat song, so I chose ‘Classic,’ because it was upbeat and on the radio, and everybody would love it.” With a few dance moves in his back pocket thanks to his performing arts background, Cole hoped his performance would inspire a few chair turns, if for nothing else than curiosity’s sake.
“I thought it would get the judges wondering what was going on if the crowd was going crazy,” Cole says. And go crazy they did, though unfortunately Cole didn’t get the judges’ chairs spinning as he had hoped.
“I later realized that it was all the ballads that were getting chair turns, because you have the opportunity to do all these runs and have so many more chances to impress the judges,” Cole says. “They said the song choice messed me up, because I didn’t get to showcase my voice, and to not move around so much the next time. In any other scenario, it would benefit me, but since they couldn’t see me, in this case, it didn’t.”
Still reeling from not getting a chair turn, Cole remembers a producer backstage urging him to say everything he could about himself after his performance. “I figured he had told everybody else to do the same thing, and I didn’t want to be the only one who doesn’t do it,” Cole laughs. “So I thought ‘YOLO, just do it.’” When asked where he was from, Cole blurted out everything he could think of, from living on a farm in Southlake to the number of animals his family owned. The judges loved it, and little did he know they would play the clip in its entirety when it aired on TV.
“My friends just busted out laughing when we had a watching party,” Cole says. “They put everything in there. But my mom said I had the longest airtime of all the contestants, s o I guess it helped.”
Though he’s considered giving The Voice another shot, Cole’s primary focus at the moment is planning for his future. He’s been working on the release of his first EP, featuring songs written with Grammy-nominated producer Drew Scott. Two of the songs have already inspired music videos based on Cole’s life, “That Guy” and “Good Friends.”
“I prefer to write with my producer, because I feed off people,” Cole says. “I feed off other people’s energy like no other—especially when it comes to songwriting.”
That collaborative energy has inspired songs written both for him and well-known artists, but that doesn’t mean he won’t pick up his guitar and write a song by himself whenever creativity strikes. “The best songs come out when I’m going through something emotional,” Cole notes. “I go in my room, shut the door, and it’s just me and m y guitar.”
For now, Cole is doing what he loves most, trying to follow in the footsteps of his own singer-songwriter inspirations like Ed Sheeran and John Mayer. His current goal is to move to L.A. when he turns 18 and score a record deal. Lofty goals—but something tells us he’s got just enough talent and tenacity to get there.
Watch Cole's performance on season 7 of the Voice.