Zaxai, the city’s final competitor on this season of “The Voice,” was cut Tuesday night after previously being given a second chance at the winner’s title by judge Kelly Clarkson.
“When she stole me, I was elated and ecstatic,” says Alberto Pierre, the 29-year-old Flatbush native, who performs under the moniker Zaxai (pronounced zahk-EYE). “The way they edited it, you couldn’t see my full, full reaction, but I wish you could because it’s so funny. She [Clarkson] pressed the button and I jumped up super high and said, ‘can I hug her?’ ”
Clarkson stole Zaxai from rival judge Jennifer Hudson’s team during a battle that aired last month, helping him become the only New Yorker to make it to the talent competition series’ live rounds.
On Monday, he performed a rendition of Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You” while a smiling Clarkson listened along. On Tuesday, he was cut.
“What I hope to gain from ‘The Voice’ is just a crazy diverse fun fanbase,” says the Haitian-American singer who found his voice at age 13 while performing with his church’s gospel choir. “I want a crazy fan base that’s ready to ride or die with me on this journey.”
With “The Voice” behind him, Zaxai is headed back to Brooklyn, where he performs with his band Date Night at Baku Palace on Emmons Avenue. Below, he reflects on his time on “The Voice.”
You and Kelly Clarkson had a run-in meeting a few years before your fates collided on “The Voice.”
OK, so [in 2010] I was working at Radio City Music Hall as an usher, and when you’re stationed at stage left or right — I’m 6’2 I’m super tall — you’re supposed to keep the aisles clear and keep people from jumping on chairs. So, I’m crouched and my head is against the stage. I don’t realize she’s behind me — I’m looking at the kids jumping into the aisle and I’m trying to keep it clear. I notice the kids want to rush, but I wasn’t sure why. I felt a thump on the back of my head and I look above me and it’s Kelly Clarkson. I was like "Holy smokes, it’s Kelly Clarkson." I promise you I’m starstruck. I’m fixed on her. Little do I know the kids took that opportunity to run up the aisle into her. She didn’t [notice] because she’s in the moment. She didn’t care and I really didn’t care. I told my friends I’d never wash my head again.
Through your time as an usher, were you imagining you’d return to the venue later on from a different point of view?
That’s a promise I still hold to this day. I told myself the last day at Radio City, I will come back as an artist. I still plan to be super big, but I want to always come back to Radio City, before Madison Square Garden. It’s home to me.
You stood out this season for having a wide range of genres under your belt, from gospel to blues to pop. How did you make the switch from singing gospel at the City College of New York to performing soul/R&B on stage?
I grew up in a Haitian-American church and aside from all the pop stuff and international stuff my dad would play, my mom would play gospel. Around age 13, I joined my church and lied about my age to get into the choir because I really wanted to sing. Around 17, I joined a touring gospel band and that’s when I really got my foot into music … I remember I was really afraid to leave the gospel scene because I was afraid of being chastised by other people, musicians, church heads. Not to say the church is like that, though it can be. What comes across as genuine when I’m singing? Especially in New York City, I’m a part of so many different bands with different genres. I’m big on being genuine, so I looked for what felt most right for me.
Given you’re finding your footing in the city’s performance scene, would you consider busking?
It’s funny, I’ve tried to. I think that’s one of the only stages I can’t conquer. I don’t know why I get so nervous. I’ve literally performed in front of 3,000 people alongside other singers and I’m not nervous. For some reason I’m just too nervous it’s one of those things I just can’t conquer. My brother who does it tells me all the time it’s about coming across authentic. Music has the ability to heal and spread love. He tells me stories constantly about how he comes on the train and he can see people’s faces, like ahh, here we go again. But he tells me all the time the atmosphere just shifts when they hear him. I am going to eventually, but for now, I haven’t conquered that yet.