As a singer who’s made it to primetime, Paxton Ingram has learned to improvise both onstage and off.
He's quick to pull out a stick of incense from his backpack and light it during stressful moments like, for instance, when his interviewer is 45 minutes late and panicked because she got stuck in hellish Midtown Art Basel traffic at ten in the morning.
His penchant for thinking on his feet came in handy for Ingram last year during The Voice’s blind auditions. He'd hoped Pharrell would be the first coach to hit his “I Want You” button and turn his chair around. Instead, Blake Shelton’s chair was the first to spin, with Adam Levine and Pharrell pressing their buttons as he sang his last note. Surprising everyone — most of all himself — Ingram chose Shelton to be his coach on impulse.
“He just touched my heart,” Ingram remembers of Shelton. “He said the right things. He said he's never recognized greatness so quickly. And that was heavy to me. I just felt more of a connection to the unknown — and it was Blake. It was such a God moment. It spoke through me.”
Half a year out from wrapping the show, Ingram believes the wild-card pick worked in his favor. “I was the only African American artist on my team, the only pop artist on my team. I stuck out, and it opened me up to a new fanbase, 'cause Blake is a country artist and he has all of that fanbase and all of that side of America," he says. "I think if I was on Pharrell’s team, it would've just kept me in a certain type of box."
Like all talent competition contestants, once the safety net of the show was gone, Ingram’s success depended solely on his efforts. After the show finished taping in May, he delayed his return to Miami to complete his first postshow release, Recover, which recently debuted on the iTunes 200 Albums chart. Its lead single, “Sober,” has garnered over 100,000 streams on Spotify already.
“A lot of the album I wrote on my own, but I had countless sessions with new writers and different writers, and I learned from them," he says. "I didn't come home until the album was finished. It was the best thing for me to do, 'cause if I'm here in Miami I'm not in the middle of the pop writers. If I'm in LA, I'm in the middle of it. I'm with the writers that are writing for Ariana [Grande].”
One of the criticisms of talent shows like The Voice is that while many of the contestants have some earth-shattering pipes, once they're left to start their music careers without the help of professional songwriters, dramatic staging, and celebrity coaches, they're at a loss as to how best to harness the attention they've gained.
Ingram thinks the artists on his season were different. “Our season was so special because all you wanted to do was write.” During downtime from the show, contestants would hole up in his room to cowrite songs, and their collaborations continued beyond their time on The Voice. The song “Barricade” on Recover was cowritten by Jonathan Bach and Joe Vivona, two contestants who were eliminated during the Battle rounds, and this month Ingram will head to LA for two weeks with fellow Season Ten finalist Nick Hagelin to work on a song they've written for a major recording artist. “I can't say [who] but it's a super-amazing artist. It's huge,” he says.
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While he's jetting to different cities for studio time and songwriting projects, Ingram isn't done calling Miami home. Last month, he played a capacity show at Wynwood Yard. “Everybody was there to see me! It was a home show. I almost cried," he says. "I sang ‘Hometown Glory,’ and everybody was singing it with me. It was such a moment.”
Reflecting on the priceless comforts of home, he adds, “I have my band here. It’s my drummer, my guitarist, and my piano player.” He also collaborates with local videographers and photographers. “You could be based from wherever you want to be, but just keep that work hustle," he says. "The hustle never stops. Get in on this project. Let's do it all together; that's why we here. That's how empires start.”
He remembers getting into a conversation about Miami with his Voice mentor Miley Cyrus. “She got sidetracked talking to Blake about going to Pharrell's house," he says. "She's like, ‘I love Miami! I go to Pharrell's house to record!’ I'm like, ‘I can't relate, I can't!’"