On the heels of a “whirlwind” week, James Violet’s — known around Weber State University as Jacob Waller — family just wanted to get their hands on Celine Dion tickets. The household that had spent all week focusing on Violet was now holding its breath for Dion.
Violet, a WSU business marketing student, is a contestant on season 17 of NBC’s Emmy-winning singing competition show, “The Voice.” His soulful adaptation of Harry Styles’ “Sweet Creature” caught the attention of judges Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani.
Violet chose Stefani as his coach, despite his musical style aligning more with Clarkson.
“I kind of wanted to throw people a curve-ball, and I feel like I could grow more under somebody out of my genre and out my area,” Violet said of his decision.
Violet grew up in a household where his mother, Kathy Waller, brought the soul and blues while his father, Travis Waller, brought the rock and indie sound. Violet began playing the clarinet at the age of 12. By the time he was in high school, Violet played the saxophone, ukulele, guitar, piano and sang.
Because of the constant music playing around him and other family members’ inclination toward music, Violet said there was never a pivotal moment where he chose music; it was always around him. While pregnant with Violet, Kathy Waller would place headphones around her stomach and play composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven.
“As soon as I played it he would just be so active,” Kathy Waller said. “It got to a point where I said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore,’ because he was pushing so hard. He definitely reacted to it.”
Violet stopped only listening to music and chose to create his own. Violet released his first project, “404 Not Found” in early 2019. Simultaneously, he launched his own creative label, In Full Bloom.
With an EP, a creative label and the depths of being a college student, Violet was busy trying to create his own sound and getting his name out. It was during this time he was approached by people within “The Voice.”
“’The Voice’ came along, and my voice and my genre is so underdone on TV. There’s plenty of people that are like me, that have this same sort of aesthetic, likes, interests and look, but it’s so underrepresented,” Violet said. “I wanted to break the norm of who can be on TV and who can be on the show.”
Beyond changing the perception of who can make it onto a reality competition show, Violet wants to use his newly-formed platform to represent Utah and WSU.
Violet recalls a time when he wanted to leave Utah in order to begin fulfilling his dreams. He no longer wants to feel like he or others have to escape Utah to become successful.
“I don’t want people to ever be like ‘I couldn’t here; I can’t in Utah because that’s not the scene,’” Violet said. “I want to be so out of the norm here that people realize they can do it as well. They can do whatever they want wherever they want.”
Kathy Waller said she was proud of how much Violet talked about his hometown of Syracuse, Utah and WSU on camera. She believes Utah can have a bad reputation around the country.
“I feel like, in this nation, Utah gets a bad rap,” Kathy Waller said. “I think people think we’re 10 years behind. Utah is an amazing place to live. It’s beautiful. The people here are kind. I was so happy and proud of his clip because he said that.”
During Violet’s blind audition, his family watched inches off-stage. His sister Maddie Waller and grandmother Janet Waller said it was a surreal experience. Violet had one request of his family during this time; whether a chair turned for him or not, no one was allowed to cry.
Immediately after Clarkson turned her chair, Maddie Waller turned to her mother and said, “Don’t cry, don’t cry,” sentiments that are now an inside joke within the family.
When Clarkson’s chair turned, Kathy Waller said it felt like the weight of the world was off their shoulders. Violet said he felt in his element during the audition but was still nervous. As the song came to a close, Shelton and Stefani pushed their buttons to vie for him.
As Kathy Waller recounted the experience through teary eyes, Maddie Waller jokingly warned her mother, “Don’t cry, don’t cry.”
“This was such a build up and such an accumulation of so much time,” Kathy Waller said. “This was the moment, and we love him so much. We were just there watching him make his dreams come true; it’s just every parents’ dream come true.”
Violet’s family has been along his The Voice journey, keeping everything about his audition confidential. Since the Oct. 1 airing of his audition, they have been overjoyed to finally share what has been years in the making.
“I think everybody has people in their lives that shine,” grandmother Janet Waller said. “He is that for us.”