It was just two words, but Chris Blue might as well have waved a red flag in front of a bull.
Speaking with children at the Morristown Boy & Girls Club in advance of his headlining appearance at the Salute to Heritage Park on November 16, Blue told of his time before winning NBC’s reality singing competition “The Voice.”
He told the club kids about being homeless in the months before his audition.
He told them of the power of a positive attitude.
And during Q&A time, in response to one particularly inquisitive young girl, he even told them his shoe size – 13 if you’re wondering.
He sang for them – and with them – then posed for a group picture. He spoke quietly with a young lady who was overcome with emotion at meeting her idol.
Then as the event was wrapping up and the kids were preparing to go back to the common room, Blue said two words that capped the event in exciting fashion.
“Group hug,” he said before being awash in an enthusiastic wave of humanity.
In a way, that embrace was emblematic of life in East Tennessee post Voice for Blue. In the months after the victory, Blue’s shows at the Tennessee Theatre sold out in minutes, forcing organizers to add a third date, which also sold out quickly.
He remains one of the region’s biggest and most beloved celebrities.
“East Tennessee has been beyond phenomenal to me, to my family, everyone on my team. There’s no other place I’d rather be,” he said in an interview at the City Center. “In fact, that’s why my wife and I are still here. We came back because we love East Tennessee. We love the air. We love what we get from our neighbors. We love the love that is expressed here,” he said. “There’s extreme courtesy that’s given out. One thing I found out about people here is when people got your back they’ve got it ,,, my experience has been a great one. It speaks to me personally because I am a loyal person and East Tennessee has been that to me.
“After I won two years ago, honestly I was afraid people would forget, after a while. But I’m so grateful and humbled to know they haven’t and they’re still willing to support. Still willing to come out and join our movement.”
Blue is bringing that movement to Morristown as he headlines the Salute to Heritage Park. The all-day celebration will feature music acts – including fellow East Tennessee Voice alum Emily Ann Roberts – as well as food, fireworks and historic remembrances of Morristown College – which served as an educational beacon for Morristown’s African-American community for more than 100 years before falling into disrepair and ruin.
Blue said he hopes those who come to the celebration - and his show – will have an amazing time and come together as family..
“Part of my brand and who I am is to extend what I believe has changed my life and that’s showing people love they way God has shown me. I’m a family guy. I love my family. I’m the youngest of 7 so I believe in the power of family and the word itself just brings people together,” he said. “What they can expect from me is a guy coming in with a heart for every individual, not only in attendance but the people of this city and expressing my love for them throughout music.
“I want to have a good time. I want to laugh. I want to dance. I want to celebrate because it’s gonna be a celebratory occasion.”
Blue, who has 20-something family members coming to the event, said he’s excited to help celebrate the opening of the park at such an historic location.
“I feel like this park, I feel that it’s going to remain or it is still an education institution because of its history. There will be plaques and signage … it’s just educating in a different form, in a different way,” Blue said, noting organizers have said there will be maps distributed at the event with an overlay that show where the historic buildings once stood. “You can walk up to a sign or see where the buildings were and read about the history behind this beautiful campus. I think it’s something that will benefit, not only the city, but the visitors who come in and visit this beautiful park.”
Blue said that while living in Chattanooga, he came to understand the impact a park can have on a community.
“There’s a park there, Coolidge Park, and every weekend – when the weather would permit – it would be flooded with people and you just saw families from all walks of life, different places of the world coming together and enjoying time together.”
Blue is more than just an East Tennessee resident. He is – as they say – one of us. He released his tribute to East Tennessee cultural mecca, the University of Tennessee athletics “I’m a Vol Fan” during basketball season. The released a football centered version of the video, which debuted the same day as the Vols second game of the season.
The song – which is a riff on the classic “Soul Man” – is a hit. The Vols overtime loss to BYU that day, however, was not.
“You know what?” he said. “I actually blame myself. I was at the game. … It’s fourth quarter and I’m like ‘Oh, we’re up. I can leave early. I can beat the traffic.’ But I was sitting in my lucky seats. By the time I got up, got to the car, BYU had scored, gone into overtime and we lost. So I kinda blamed that on me.”
Blue said he learned his lesson.
“I was there for the South Carolina game and I didn’t leave until we were up 20 and there was no way South Carolina could come back. So that was my fault. Sorry, y’all.”
Despite his fame, Blue said he and his London, England born wife enjoy getting out and about and enjoying their lives in East Tennessee. The resulting fan interactions, he said, are part of the fun.
“We live our lives. We enjoy our lives,” he said. “We go out. We love movies. We’re movie buffs, We love 4DX, that experience down in Turkey Creek. We love Top Golf and I hear Top Golf is coming to Knoxville. We get out. People stop and we’re taking pictures and talking to folks, but personally, I love that because it gives me an opportunity to serve my purpose.
“Everything I do is beyond me. It’s not about me. I’m here to serve … it takes courage to come up and ask for a picture, it takes courage to come up and ask for an autograph. It takes courage so why not reward that.”
Though Blue rose to stardom two years ago, the 29-year-old has been performing for much longer. As a gospel, pop and R&B singer, Blue’s musical roots are in the church and, he explained to the kids at the Boys & Girls Club that his musical inspiration came from a gospel group when he was 3 years old. He grew up making music in the church and served in Knoxville churches before launching his singing career on the voice.
For Blue, his appearance in Morristown seems a bit influenced by a higher power. His new EP record is entitled “Fresh Start,” perfectly appropriate for the former Morristown College site which had been allowed to descend over decades into blight and now will host a sweeping, picturesque park.
It’s another in a line of times Blue, who is deeply religious has felt a divine influence in his life. Blue said he’d been encouraged several times to try out, including by Emily Ann Roberts who he met after her time on “The Voice.”
For a myriad of reasons, Blue didn’t try out. Then, one night, the encouragement came from a source he couldn’t deny … eventually.
“Honestly, I can remember sitting on my bed in my bedroom and I hear this audible voice. You guys are gonna think I’m crazy. It was an audible voice of God saying ‘go try out for The Voice,’” he said. “And so I responded to God, ‘No.’
“And then the next season came and the same voice and so finally, I said, ‘I’ll do it,’”
Blue said a friend who he was writing with cancelled a writing session because she was going to audition for the show. She encouraged Blue to sign up as well and sent him the link.
Halfway through filling out the application, Blue said he got a call from his sister.
“She called me and said, ‘Chris, you’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I just heard God speak to me and he told me to tell you that you need to try out for The Voice,” he said. “And I’m like, all right. OK. I don’t need any more signs. But God continued to give me signs. I went to church that weekend and four families from different churches all said the same thing,”
Blue borrowed a truck and $100 from a friend and went down to Atlanta and started his journey to stardom.
And now that journey has led him to Morristown where he’s going to help open a park and celebrate its history.
“Parks like this bring us back together,” he said. “It promotes unity. It promotes togetherness. It promotes family, which is every thing I stand for.”