It should come as no surprise that Chris Weaver ’10, a contestant on a recent season of NBC’s “The Voice,” a man with an insane gift for singing, was a music major while at Central College—except he wasn’t.
“I took one music theory class my freshman year and I just hated every second,” Weaver says. “I love to sing, but I realized I didn’t need a degree in music to perform.”
Weaver pursued multiple courses at Central. He eventually created his own general studies major. Looking back, he feels his major captures the spirit of the college and himself.
“My interests have always varied. At Central, I was able to explore who I was as a person—and not just in the classroom,” he says. “I was involved in every music ensemble at Central as well as with the London Community Gospel Choir while I was abroad in London.”
His tenure in Central’s jazz vocal combos ignited his passion for songwriting and turned his life to performing.
“It was during preparations for a combos concert that Sonny Cutler ’09, the piano player, and I decided to write a song,” Weaver explains. “I wasn’t prepared for the impact it had on my fellow students. We received amazing feedback. It was at Central I decided that performing was what I wanted to pursue.”
Gabriel Espinosa ’79, associate professor of music, applauds his former student for the success he has made.
“The moment Chris sang for the first time, I asked him what he wanted to do with his voice. He said, ‘I want to make a living with this voice,’” Espinosa says. “This was eight to 10 years ago. He has worked very hard for his dreams—that’s what you have to do—and he has grown immensely since then.”
READY FOR THE STAGE
After graduating from Central, Weaver was ready to conquer the music industry. He didn’t know exactly where he wanted to be or what he wanted to do, he just knew it needed to involve music.
“I got a job at Subway,” he laughs. He also landed an internship as a worship leader at Hope Church in Des Moines with the help of John Cheatem (Mero), who would later find himself on the same season of “The Voice” as Weaver.
Meanwhile, a friend suggested Weaver try performing in drag after seeing him dress up as Tyler Perry’s Madea for Halloween.
“It is a creative outlet, and a lot of fun to be on stage,” Weaver says of performing as his drag persona, the gorgeous and sassy Nedra Belle.
And then came the defining moment of his career: “The Voice,” America’s top singing competition. The show’s format features five stages of competition: the first begins with the blind auditions, then the battle rounds, knockouts, playoffs and, finally, the live performance shows.
“I went to open call auditions twice, once in Chicago and once in New York,” Weaver says.
Weaver was selected to perform in the first television rounds. He wowed the judges with his performance of “Try a Little Tenderness,” earning the first “four-chair turn” of the season. All four judges—Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Hudson—wanted Weaver to join their teams.
“When he performs, it just can’t be missed.”
— Jennifer Hudson, singer
When he performed at the blind audition in front of “The Voice” judges, he just “blurted out to America” that he is a worship leader by day and drag queen by night.
Weaver continued to impress the judges over several performances, including a cover of “I Put a Spell on You” in the knockout rounds. He was eventually dropped from Jennifer Hudson’s team, narrowly missing the top 12.
“I continue to be inspired by the show,” Weaver says. “I had an amazing experience and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am so thankful to have made it as far as I did.”
HE’LL PUT A SPELL ON YOU
While that was the end of “The Voice” for Weaver, it was just the beginning for Nedra Belle. Producers invited Belle to perform on the season finale, making the artist the only contestant to be invited back to perform in a finale in 13 seasons.
The surprises didn’t end there.
“It wasn’t until the last minute that we were told that during the performance Jessie J would be singing ‘Bang Bang’ with us,” Weaver says.
The reviews poured in and they were overwhelmingly positive.
“There is nothing like performing on a live stage like ‘The Voice,’” Weaver says. “Some part of me wondered how a drag performance would go over, and thankfully, there has been very little negativity. I was shocked and wonderfully surprised to see such support for me and what I do.”
Since performing on “The Voice,” Weaver’s life in New York City has boomed. He continues performing weekly and serving as a worship leader. But Weaver has clearly stepped into the world of fame. Now armed with an agent, he gets plenty of gigs. He sees Broadway and touring as options, but the future is still up in the air. What has become quite evident to him, though, is that the magic that started on “The Voice” persists.
“I was so honored to represent the LGBTQ community during my time on ‘The Voice,’” Weaver says. “My performances opened up a conversation across the country. I am humbled I could be a part of that.”
WHAT OTHERS SAY
“Weaver may have been eliminated during the playoff rounds, but his performance proved he has a star power to be reckoned with and is as fabulous as they come.”
“As an educator, you want to find students with love for music that comes from the heart. Chris is one that has said, ‘This is my life.’ You can see that in him, and it brings me so much happiness.”
— Gabriel Espinosa ’79
“I know what you’re thinking, we all watched ‘The Voice’ last night…the winner was Chloe Kohanski. I mean, technically, yes, but who the REAL winner was…NEDRA BELLE also known as Chris Weaver from Team J-Hud.”
— Talent Recap