Alumni, Campus wide, College of Humanities & Social Sciences, Music

Alumnus gets four-chair turn on “The Voice”

By Jenna Johnson | October 15, 2021
Aaron Hines ’16 performs on NBC’s The Voice stage during Blind Auditions. Photo by Tyler Golden/NBC

From an 8th grade talent show to large music venues, Aaron Hines ’16 has performed on stages of all sizes—but none bigger than the one he walked on recently at Universal Studios in Hollywood. 

Hines is currently competing on Season 21 of “The Voice,” an NBC Emmy Award-winning musical competition series that showcases vocalists from across the United States. This season, superstar coaches include Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Ariana Grande, and Blake Shelton. The show features four stages of competition: Blind Auditions, Battle Rounds, Knockouts, and Live Performance Shows.

Followers of Hines had to wait until nearly the end of the Blinds to finally watch Hines perform. During a Blind, each coach is turned facing the audience as to only judge the voice of the performer. When they hear a voice that tickles their ears, they press a button during the performance to turn the chair around in hopes of selecting the artist for their team. If more than one coach pushes the button, the artist may choose which coach they want to work with throughout the competition. Hines received an astounding four-chair turn during his stunning performance.

He showed no hint of nerves on the stage, and Hines credited that to the show’s positive environment and his reliance on God. “They did a great job at making sure that we had what we needed to do what we love to do and feel prepared and equipped to do a good job. It’s Universal Studios, so everything is amazing. All I have to do is just sing,” he said. “There was definitely some nerves. I remember saying my quick prayer and reading my Scripture, and my Scripture of the day was ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind.’ I remember quoting that over and over and over: ‘Power, love, and a sound mind.’ I had so much peace and feeling of ‘I belong here.’ I didn’t want my nerves or fear to make me miss the moment. I didn’t want that to happen. So, I fought to stay contained and relaxed. The anxious part isn’t them turning around. Them turning around is a sigh of relief. When they turned around, I was like ‘Whew, thank the Lord.’” 

His journey to this national stage is a testament to his faith and family, one that began early in life. Inspired by music at a young age, Hines thrived on his natural musical abilities. He graduated from drumming on pots and pans at age 3 to real drums as a kid. He started playing piano by ear at age 13, and even tackled guitar while in college at Charleston Southern University. His voice, though, was his constant instrument. And a talent competition in middle school was where Hines first graced a stage and performed in front of an audience.

Hines wrote a letter to his 2-year-old self: “Everything you experience will strengthen you more than you could ever imagine. There will be times where your biggest enemy is yourself, but God’s purpose and plan for your life is far greater and stronger than any self-sabotaging you try to do in your adolescence and college years. One thing that will keep you sane in this thing we call life is that God loves you so much.” Photo provided

Hines was a military kid, and with a mom and a dad who served in the Air Force and divorced when he was young, he moved around a bit. He still considers Charleston home. 

Playing into what inspires Hines today, he thinks back to his roots—a mix of both church and secular music. “When I was living with my dad, he’d wake us up early on a Saturday morning blasting R&B and soul, Maxwell, Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott. And the opposite when I was at my Mom’s—Mississippi Mass Choir, spiritual. I was really inspired by both.”

When Hines approached high school graduation, college was not a top priority. “At first I didn’t plan on going to school. I knew I wanted to do music, but I couldn’t see where college fit into that,” he said, explaining different dynamics at the time. “I felt some pressure. But then, none of the men in my family went to college.” 

Something changed for him when his mom encouraged him to check out CSU. With grants, scholarships, and GI bill (thanks to his veteran parents), he felt the favor of God in his last-minute decision to attend Charleston Southern—one that paid off in eternal dividends. “I was able to navigate my faith and work it out at CSU. It was a part of the environment. It helped me in so many different capacities…developing and growing as a believer and as a man.”

As a defense mechanism, he set his expectations low for college. CSU took him by surprise. As a music and worship leadership major, Hines named several faculty and staff who impacted who he is today. The energy of Professor Thomas Keating (theatre), the coaching of Dr. Jennifer Luiken (voice), the inclusivity of Dr. Allen Hendricks (former chair of church music), the high expectations and respect of the craft by Dr. Valerie Bullock (former chair of the Horton School of Music) to name a few. Each spoke into his life in different ways for different reasons.

In fact, in preparation for a musical theatre production “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” Keating and Luiken used an original song by Hines called “One Day.” It is one of Luiken’s favorite memories of her past student.

“This was an important show for our students and for our CSU community in the wake of the Emanuel 9 tragedy, and Aaron’s part in that production was another opportunity for him to demonstrate his leadership and charisma on stage,” she said.

Mark Sterbank, associate professor of jazz studies, introduced Hines to a whole new world of music. “I went from being in his class to him being the ticket to me selling out a Charleston Music Hall show,” Hines said.

Hines leading Elevate Worship at a November 2015 chapel service. Photo by Richard Esposito

Reflecting on his time on the Elevate Worship praise team, Hines commented that Rev. Jon Davis convinced him to be a part of that ministry and use his gifts for the glory of God. The two stay in touch to this day. “He messaged me a couple weeks ago and said he was proud of me. I was like, ‘Bro, I’m proud of you. I’m in a singing competition, and you’re fighting for your life.” Davis is currently undergoing treatment for stage 4 brain cancer. Hines understands the anxiety and pressure that comes with that having just gone through a similar experience with his mother.

That part of his story—the hard part—is woven into the tapestry of his testimony of faith. 

For Hines, his career seemed to naturally just happen. He had a full-time stint at a local church when he graduated from CSU, contracted at large churches in the Charleston area like Newspring and Seacoast, then got calls to lead worship in other cities and states. It wasn’t long before he got calls to record in studios. Hines played shows downtown, sang at weddings, and performed at larger venues like Charleston Music Hall. After two years of serving as a worship pastor in Saint Louis, he felt drawn to a warmer climate once again. Hence his current home in Texas, serving as a worship pastor in San Antonio and producing and recording music for other artists in the Christian and secular music industry. 

While the young artist had the makings of a blessed career, the news he received in 2019 about his mom’s diagnosis of cancer tested his faith. 

“I remember her calling me, and I remember not having any words. I was in shock. In church, you see people deal with their infirmities, but when it gets that close, it becomes very real. This is my mom. She’s an angel. I never heard her say a curse word, pick up a bottle, or smoke a cigarette. She’s everybody’s mama. She’s mama Jackie. That’s who she is.” Hines went through a rollercoaster of emotions and it shook him to his core. “The only thing that kept me clinging to my faith was my mom. My mom’s temperament, my mom’s strength, her just being so calm and cool and collected.”

Hines with Tessa Spencer (also an alum and a local media personality) and other CSU students after a November 2015 chapel. Photo by Richard Esposito

His mom is now cancer free. “She was a foundational piece of showing me that unconditional love that God has for His kids. The way she handled that whole situation, God is the only answer that makes sense. She’s amazing and incredible.”

During this time of watching his mom fight cancer, God sparked a new fire in his heart. A friend encouraged Hines to audition for “The Voice.” At first, Hines pushed back, but he finally decided to go for it last fall and submitted his audition. Hines got the call back in March. 

“This is definitely a dream come true,” said Hines. “John Legend has been a huge inspiration to who I am as an artist and songwriter. And Kelly Clarkson is Kelly Clarkson! And Ariana Grande, Blake Shelton… they are all phenomenal artists and musicians and they’ve accomplished so much. It is an honor to be on that stage and sing in front of them.”

Hines’ hope is to inspire others through his music and testimony. “My hope and dream for this experience is that I not only continue to inspire people to follow their dreams and their passion and do what it is that God put on their heart, but also I want to utilize this as a tool to create platforms and opportunities for people to let them know that every hardship and circumstance plays a part in your story. Embrace it. Somehow God always makes it very evident the role and part that it plays in your purpose and your destiny.” 

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