Student's ascent gives 'Voice' to God's glory

Austin Montgomery views his appearances on "The Voice" as an opportunity to share his faith, not just his musical talent. (Photo by Tina Thorpe/NBC)

Austin Montgomery’s story is right out of Hollywood, and not just because “The Voice” is filmed there.

The Grand Canyon University student was selected for the current season of the popular NBC show and won his “battle round, but he’s still amazed that he had a fighting chance. He knows he’s not the star of this made-for-TV turn of events.

“The Lord opened my eyes to a glimpse of just how incredible He is,” Montgomery said. “I’m not going on ‘The Voice’ so I can become famous and have a career in music. It’s like, ‘Wow, this is a platform to get to talk to people about the Lord.’”

Incredibly, Montgomery was embarrassed to sing in public, but people who heard his voice convinced him to try out for the show. (Photo by Elizabeth Morris/NBC)

That isn’t false humility. It’s true wonderment at what God has done with his life in the last 3½ years.

You see, Montgomery had never played the guitar until that fateful day when he discovered his grandfather’s long dormant strings and prevailed on him to strum them for the first time in years.

Austin’s grandmother was in tears – she hadn’t seen her husband play for so long. And Montgomery was in awe.

He started plucking away at that guitar whenever he could and then started singing wherever he could – the shower, his room, but always in private because he didn’t want anyone to hear him.

The upside: He had grown up around music. His parents always had the radio blaring. He had taken piano lessons as a kid.

The downside: His piano skills had gone dormant, he had never taken voice lessons and he didn’t think he had much talent.

But he remembered how much he loved crooning Michael Jackson songs at his first grade teacher’s Fun Fridays, and he loves ’50s music – Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Dion and the Belmonts. The next step was only natural.

“I wonder if I could learn an Elvis song? What would I sound like?” he thought to himself.

Then he did “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.” It wasn’t half-bad. In fact, it was pretty good. And …

“Man, this is a lot of fun,” was his main takeaway.

Not long after, Montgomery had a crush on a girl. That was the only reason he started going to church – she invited him to join the youth group, and he was going to do whatever it took to be around her.

Religion hadn’t been his thing. “It was very much my folks’ faith,” he said.

Then it happened.

“The Lord opened my eyes to Him – just understanding His grace and how much He does for us that we don’t deserve. There’s nothing we can do to be thankful enough for it. God is just incredible. I know that goes without saying, but He’s totally changed my life.”

It took another God moment to propel him toward “The Voice.” He was playing guitar and singing in his room (“Always with the door closed because I didn’t know if it was any good”) while his parents were watching TV downstairs.

They heard the music when the TV went quiet for a few seconds. Thinking it was the radio, they drew closer to investigate and were stunned to find out it was their son’s voice.

“We think you should do something with that,” they told him.

His friends were saying the same thing, so he decided to try out for “The Voice.”

“They emailed me back, and it was something along the lines of, ‘We appreciate you sending something in, and we’ll try to get you in during a later season.’ I took that as a ‘Hollywood nice’ way of saying, ‘Sorry, kid, you just don’t have it,’” he said.

He didn’t think much more of it until one day, when he was doing laundry, he got a call from someone who said they were with “The Voice” and wanted him to try out.

“Is this Josh?” he shot back, suspecting that his roommate was playing a joke on him as he struggled to hold the phone and the hamper at the same time.

Montgomery won his "battle round" with Tanner Fussell (right). (Photo by Elizabeth Morris/NBC)

Still, Montgomery didn’t think of himself as anything more than incredible underdog.

“I’m so new to everything,” he said. “Even the guy I got to battle with (Tanner Fussell), he’s moved to Nashville, he’s been doing gigs for 10 years. I just felt like, ‘Man, I have no business being here.’ It was like David on the front lines with Goliath – ‘Aren’t you supposed to be back with the sheep?’”

Yet he won to qualify for the show’s next round, and he maintained that “Who? Me?” attitude throughout the process.

He couldn’t help but laugh to himself when he was filming scenes for the show on a Universal Studios back lot just as a tour came by.

“They announced on the tour, ‘Over here, we’re filming Season 22 of ‘The Voice.’ It just cracked me up because people were taking pictures of me,” he said. “I remember when I was on one of those tours two years ago and everybody you see back there, you’re thinking, ‘They could be a celebrity.’”

The biggest thing about this whole experience is not getting comfortable in plans.

Austin Montgomery

He couldn’t resist waving. More pictures. If only they knew.

His attitude on the GCU campus has been similarly self-deprecating. He’s a business management major with a minor in worship arts, and he didn’t even go to the Recording Studio, where all the worship arts majors hang out, the first half of his freshman year. He still didn’t know if he belonged once he started visiting – even when he recorded a song there.

When one of the Recording Studio employees, Monica Dennington, convinced him to participate in an open mic night, Montgomery resisted at first.

“That was terrifying, but I credit her. She was the first person to get me to sign up and perform,” he said. “There's so much talent here. I'm blown away.”

He decided to take online classes from his home in Hemet, California, this fall while helping out his parents and seeing what happens with “The Voice.” He hopes to live on campus again at some point and graduate in April 2024.

But he’s not counting on anything. He knows better.

“The biggest thing about this whole experience is not getting comfortable in plans,” he said. “Before ‘The Voice,’ my whole plan was just, ‘OK, I’ll get the degree and maybe take on the family business or start my own.’ The Lord, obviously, had a different plan.”

His first voice lessons were with the coaches “The Voice” supplies. He was amused to hear other contestants insist on doing it their way because they’ve been singing for so long.

“Me, I’m new to the whole thing. Any piece of advice, I was soaking it up,” he said. “I was like, ‘OK, you’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’m going to listen to what you have to say.’”

And when he told one of the coaches that God was his main motivation, he was surprised to be told, “If the Lord has given you this gift, then anyone who hears you sing is blessed.”

That was all he needed to hear.

“If this is something God has given me for His glory, it’s selfish to keep it to myself,” he said. “He’s the only reason I’ve gotten this opportunity. I’m here for God. I’m here for the Lord.”

Hollywood? No. Holy-wood. It doesn’t matter how he does on “The Voice.” He already has won.

Contact Rick Vacek, Senior Manager for Internal Communications, at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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Jesus taught his disciples, saying: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

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