By Miguel Legoas, The Augusta Chronicle

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Many children hear their parents sing, but newborn baby Israel Hambrick of Augusta is one of very few who will be able to say that his first time hearing his father sing was at the final audition for one of America’s biggest singing competitions.

Though he may not know it now, Israel was a witness to his father, Tony Aaron Hambrick, competing for a spot on this year’s season of the hit TV show “The Voice.”

“Although he may not remember, just to know that the first time you heard your father sing was on NBC, was standing at Universal Studios in Burbank, CA, Hollywood, CA, singing for John Legend, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton,” Hambrick gushed, “I think that is totally cool.”

The 31-year-old vocalist is a life-long Augusta native. He first started singing at his family’s church Live River Baptist Church off Tobacco Road where his mother sang as one of the choir’s soloists.

“Between going to choir rehearsal every Thursday, doing homework in the pews, listening to the choir sing and listening to my mom sing and listening to my other church members sing, I grew a love and a passion for singing,” Hambrick said.

His parents invested in that passion, and after years of classes and practicing, he now leads the chorale program at Jessye NormanSchool of the Arts, serves as the worship leader at his church, teaches music at North Augusta Middle School and performs gigs on the weekend. And Hambrick’s musical talents would give him an even bigger opportunity.

“I was at my job one day, and I was scrolling on Instagram and along comes a sponsored post by NBC for an open casting call, and I don’t know what it was, but I was like `Why not?”’ he asked.

That question and a few preliminary interviews later, Hambrick got a call from a California number, and the voice of an executive producer said “We want to welcome you to Hollywood.” What was his response?

“My first words were `Stop playing on my phone!’ That’s what I told a producer of NBC!” Hambrick recalled with a burst of laughter. “He was like `No, no, no, Tony. I’m so serious. Welcome to Hollywood,’ and I laughed and I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. I just couldn’t stop. That was my reaction. I couldn’t believe it happened.”

But as happy as he was, when he told his wife Sharla the big news, he said he had decided to not go through with it since Sharla was still pregnant with Israel at the time, and she would be giving birth within the next few weeks. But Sharla was not having it.

“She was like `You would be crazy to turn this opportunity down,”’ Hambrick said.
“This is something he always strived for,” Sharla said. “This is one of his goals, and he always said he wanted to be on a bigger platform, and I’m just like `Just because we’re about to have a baby and I’m pregnant, you’re not gonna miss this opportunity.”’

Hambrick took the chance and flew to California just one week after Israel was born. Sharla, her new son, and Hambrick’s mother watched him sing Justin Bieber’s “Anyone” for the judges. Hambrick admitted that he was nervous during the performance, and the judges noticed it in parts of his singing, leading them to not offering him a spot in the competition. But they did leave him with some other critiques that served as a driving force.

He said that Grande “loved my voice, she loves my falsetto,” that Legend said “`You’re gonna have a successful career,”’ and that Shelton said “`Listen, we definitely want you to come back.”’
Hambrick was disappointed that he did not advance, and as the last episode of the blind auditions ended Oct. 5, he was disappointed that he had not appeared on one of the episodes. However, he did appear on some TV promos for the show ahead of time, which excited him and his loved ones. Hambrick himself was happily cheering on his new friends during Tuesday’s broadcast as they headed into the next phase of the competition.

“Knowing their story, getting to know them over the time that we were together in California and we, of course, spent a lot of time together, so we got to know each other pretty well, very quickly,” Hambrick said. “So, seeing them on the screen, seeing friends, seeing family perform, why wouldn’t I be excited?”

But whether or not Hambrick tries out for the show again, which he has not yet decided on one way or another, this experience gave him something he was sorely in need of.

“I needed confirmation,” he said. “There have been times that I have questioned my own talent and my own ability…(This experience) confirms my dreams and desires. They don’t just have to be dreams and desires, but it can be reality, only thing I have to do is put in the work… I may not be a world superstar today, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t be tomorrow.”