PINEY FLATS, Tenn. — Hair combed to the left, Gerald Anderson-made guitar in hand, he sang but one verse of Don Williams’ “Tulsa Time” before pop superstar John Legend turned around.
Carson Peters, 17, was a smashing four-chair turn on NBC’s “The Voice” competition. He was officially eliminated from the show in early November, although the show was taped over the summer in Los Angeles.
This season of “The Voice” concludes tonight with its finale and the crowning of the winner.
The teenager from Piney Flats has been a star in the making since the age of 3. Home folks know that. Now America knows.
“John Legend was the first (coach/judge) I saw,” said Peters last week at his home in Piney Flats. “We didn’t see them at all before then.”
Per the format, four music-based celebrities serve as coaches and, ultimately, judges for and of the contestants.
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On the initial program, Peters stepped on stage. Attendees and the TV audience could see and hear him; the coaches could only hear him — initially. Current coaches are pop stars John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, Ariana Grande and country star Blake Shelton.
The coaches sit in large chairs with their backs to the performers. Acceptance comes when and if they turn to face the performer. Acceptance means the performer advances to the next round.
“John Legend was the first one to turn around, and it blew my mind that he turned around for a country artist,” said Peters, a senior at Elizabethton High School. “Until then, I was nervous.”
Legend’s turn around was followed by Shelton. Side stage, Peters’ mother beamed and clapped. A camera back home captured his elated father and family. From his seat, Shelton mouthed the lyrics along with Peters.
“C’mon, Kelly!” Peters’ father, Jamie Peters, said on camera. “Turn it!”
Legend stood and swayed to the swing of the song. Then Grande turned, followed quickly by Clarkson.
“Welcome to the voice,” Legend said at song’s end. “What is your name and where are you from?”
Upon Peters’ reply, the coaches — particularly Legend, lobbied Peters to become his coach.
“We could do this together!” Legend said. “We could shock the world, Carson!”
The coaches joshed with each other, particularly Legend and Shelton.
“That’s my man, right there!” said Shelton, as he pointed to Peters.
Peters chose Shelton to be his coach.
Months later, Peters spoke while seated inside the large MCI tour bus he’s owned for a couple of years. When not in school, he tours with his bluegrass band, Iron Mountain, which includes his father, Jamie, on guitar.
“When COVID hit last year, we had 70-some shows scheduled, but only did six or seven,” Peters said. “So, I tried out for ‘The Voice’ in late 2020. I signed up the day before the deadline.”
For the initial audition, applicants must submit a video of them singing a song.
“I did Jason Isbell’s ‘Cover Me Up,’” Peters said. “Sent it in. Got a response 30 minutes later, and it said I passed. Then it was round after round.”
Weeks then months passed.
“The day after school let out, me and mom went to L.A.,” Peters said. “We went there for a month-and-a -half for a blind audition. That’s the first round, the blind audition.”
That’s what people back home and across the country witnessed when Peters sang “Tulsa Time.” During that month-and-a-half, Peters practiced the song repeatedly with the show’s band in preparation for the first round.
“They gave us a list of 600 to 700 songs we could pick from,” Peters said. “It was titled, ‘Every Song the Band Knows.’ Every genre, every era you can think of. Well, I always liked ‘Tulsa Time.’”
He admits to being nervous during his first appearance on “The Voice,” but it was not his first experience with national television.
Eight years ago, in those days he was known as Fiddlin’ Carson Peters because of his prowess in playing fiddle, the 9-year-old appeared on NBC’s “Late Night with Jay Leno.” He played for, joked with and impressed Leno and his guest, Hollywood legend Betty White.
“Wow,” said Leno that night. “Only 85 years separates you two.”
Peters was then a rising fourth-grader. Though young, his sense of showmanship was in full bloom when Leno asked him about the difference between a violin and fiddle.
“Well, um, there’s really no difference, see. You just play it differently. But there’s a joke,” Peters said. “A violin has strings and a fiddle has strangs.”
Then Peters pulled a fast one. He began by scratching his bow across the strings in fingernails-meets-blackboard fashion. White grimaced. So did Leno.
“I’m just kiddin,’” Peters said.
A year later, Country Music Hall of Fame member Ricky Skaggs invited the youngster to make his debut on the prestigious Grand Ole Opry. Since then, Skaggs has become a mentor.
“I tell you what, I love him,” said Ricky Skaggs. “He’s a special kid.”
Although at 17, he’s still in high school, he tours and headlines concert dates. He’s working on a new record, a country EP recorded near Kingsport in Bobby Starnes’ Hat Creek Recording Studio. It’s due for release in the spring.
“He’s been blessed with talent and opportunities, but he’s also worked very hard,” said Jamie Peters, Carson’s father. “Carson loves to play music and he loves to play music for people. People say, ‘Well, that looks easy.’ Well, it wasn’t.”
Consider this. At age 3, he learned to play his first song on fiddle, “Old MacDonald.” By age 4, he was playing for live audiences. At age 5, he made his first appearance during Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.
Then as now, his mother, Robin Peters, books her son’s shows.
“To this day, I am flabbergasted at what he’s done and achieved,” she said.
So, after their initial time in Los Angeles, Carson and Robin Peters flew back home to Tennessee in early July. After about 10 days, they returned to Los Angeles for another month-and-a-half.
Things tightened in the lead-up to round two of “The Voice.”
“I did Vince Gill’s ‘Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away,’” Peters said. “Blake picked that one for me and Clint Sherman to sing. He sang the first half and I sang the second half.”
Peters advanced to round three.
“I did ‘Amarillo by Morning,’ by George Strait,” he said. “As soon as I had the first rehearsal, I knew I was going home. It wasn’t clicking.”
Sure enough, Peters did not make it past round three.
“The next day,” he said, “I went home. That was on either August 7 or 8.”
By then, Peters had listened in while pop superstars Justin Bieber and then Bruno Mars rehearsed next door. Wow, right? He still beams when speaking about that.
Better still, Peters received coaching from Blake Shelton, met and spoke with such famous musicians as pop star Ed Sheeran and country’s Dierks Bentley.
“I learned that this is really what I want to do,” Peters said.
To that end, he’s been accepted to attend Belmont University in Nashville. Belmont’s past graduates include such country music monuments as Minnie Pearl, Brad Paisley, Trisha Yearwood and Josh Turner.
But first, Peters will continue to perform in his backyard. For instance, Peters and Iron Mountain band member Austin Tate will perform at Abingdon Vineyards on Saturday, Jan. 1.
After his time on the show, Peters does not dwell on losing anything, he embraces what he’s gained. He’s grateful.
“Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley and Ed Sheeran said they wanted me to be the next star of country music,” Peters said. “Like, wow! It gave me confidence. You’ve got to have perseverance and confidence to make it in the music business.”
Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.