The nation met Cedarville alumnus Brian Johnson ’12 nearly a year ago in season eight of NBC’s “The Voice.” Since then, Johnson has led worship throughout the nation – opportunities he said he never thought were possible. And now, Johnson and his wife, Kellie, are preparing for the birth of their first child, a son to be named Ryland James, according to a recent Instagram post.
“This year has been amazing. It’s taught me so much about who I am as an artist and what I want to be doing,” Johnson told Cedars in late 2015, “but I think in this next year with the baby coming and everything, (travel is) going to be a little bit less, and I’m OK with that.”
Johnson’s blind audition – the first stage of the singing competition – aired on “The Voice” March 3, 2015. Johnson first chose to join the team of “Voice” coach and country singer Blake Shelton, but coach and musician Adam Levine stole Johnson over to his team after the competition’s knockout round. Johnson then moved on with #TeamAdam and 11 other contestants to the live performance shows, which gave “Voice” viewers the chance to vote and select the top 10 contestants. But unable to garner enough of the people’s vote, Johnson headed home to Cleveland, Ohio, after the April 14, 2015, show.
“‘The Voice’ kind of opened up a lot of doors to just be able to travel and just do different shows in different areas. I love leading worship, and that’s been my passion since before I was on the show,” Johnson said. “It’s just been really cool to have that door be open to travel and do worship music. It’s awesome.”
Johnson led nearly 15,000 people in worship in Florida at the General Council for the Assembly of God Association – one of the experiences he called incredible. Also topping his list was leading worship at Cleveland’s “Youth Explosion” conference, with about one thousand kids in attendance.
His wife, Kellie, said Johnson has also performed at winter retreats, his high school and a camp for children whose parents suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS). Johnson’s dad was diagnosed with MS while Johnson was in college.
“(It’s) allowed Brian to just share the love and share that this is something that affects him and bring awareness to the disease,” Kellie told Cedars last month. “He was able to touch base with these little kids and say, ‘I went through this, I know where you’re at and it’s OK. It’s hard, but you can get through this.’”
Likewise, Johnson has also had the opportunity to encourage and share his story with students at his former high school of overcoming bullying, Kellie said.
“He’s really been able to connect with high school students who are currently going through (bullying) and just say, ‘It’s OK. That doesn’t have to determine who you are. You were created for so much more, and just because you’re stuck in this moment doesn’t mean you have to make that your true identity,’” Kellie said.
Johnson said the biggest change in his life as a result of his time on “The Voice” has been an increase in his confidence.
“Before, I felt like the biggest thing that I was going to be doing was singing at Sunday mornings, and I feel like my confidence has changed to know that this is the gift that God has given me and the story that God gave me to share with other kids – to tell them to chase after their dreams,” he said.
Kellie said “The Voice” showed her husband that his musical talents can be used for God’s glory beyond the church.
“He was just validated as like, ‘Yes, this is a God-given talent, yes God has blessed me with this ability, but it’s not just within the church realm that it’s able to be recognized,’” Kellie said. “Through ‘The Voice,’ he was just able to understand even more that his talent is so much more than just being good at something. He’s able to have a presence on the stage. He’s able to control the room or to bring people into an emotional state. It’s not like just when he’s leading worship on the stage. He can do it in a secular way and still have an impact on a person.”
Johnson said he has a heart for leading youth in worship, something he’s been able to do plenty of since his time on “The Voice” wrapped up last spring. He said he most enjoys being able to encourage young people to work hard, follow their dreams and overcome fear or bullying or whatever they may be facing – all of which comes from his own story.
Johnson said he auditioned for “The Voice” four times before he got a chance to audition in front of the judges during the blind auditions. For kids that are going through something difficult – dealing with rejection, a mistake or a bad audition – Johnson said he’s able to offer them encouragement by having been in their shoes.
“For me to be able to talk to them with confidence in saying, ‘I was told ‘no’ four times before I actually got a chance to audition for the coaches, and you know, I kept my head up high and I kept trying to improve the gift that God gave me, to use it well,’” Johnson said, “I think ‘The Voice’ just gave me confidence in that story to be able to share with other people that it’s worth it to keep trying, it’s worth it to keep going.”
He also talks about his middle school days in which he had to learn to overcome fear, particularly in performing on stage.
“So for me to be able to speak to students and talk about overcoming fear, you know working hard in the face of adversity or anything like that, it’s awesome to be able to make that type of impact,” he said.
But though Johnson’s heart is for connecting and worshipping with youth, he’s stayed connected with his “Voice” family from season eight.
“I definitely keep up with a ton of people from my season,” Johnson said, citing performances he’s done throughout the country with his fellow contestants. “It’s awesome we still have that family, you know, months after the show has ended.”
In the year ahead, Johnson said he’s hoping to be home more – especially as his son’s arrival nears. Kellie said the couple is planning the timeline of Johnson’s events more carefully, with hopes that he’ll have a few bigger events in the same area, rather than smaller events spread out across the country.
“We’re excited for 2016 and everything it has in store,” Kellie said. “It’s sort of like this year of transition, and we’re excited to see where God’s leading us and what doors are going to open.”
Anna Dembowski is a senior journalism major and editor-in-chief for Cedars. She loves coffee and craves adventure. Follow her at @annabbowskers.