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The Voice season 9 winner Jordan Smith interviewed on his 'breakthrough moment'

The 22-year-old also reveals why he’s jealous of runner-up Jeffrey Austin

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Trae Patton/NBC

While many college students find themselves cramming for finals and submitting thesis papers as the holidays approach, 22-year-old Jordan Smith is spending time in New York City and appearing on the Today Show. “I remember visiting New York when I was in middle school and I was in the background of the Today Show,” The Voice season 9 winner tells EW. “I must say I’m not jealous of any of my friends who are still at college right now!”

Smith spent the first half of what would’ve been his third year at Lee University in rehearsals with Adam Levine, a coach he had the luxury of handpicking when Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton, and Pharrell Williams all turned around after he auditioned with “Chandelier.” Now, just three days after the finale, Smith has come a long way from his Sia cover, having beaten out Adele on the iTunes overall top songs chart last week and becoming the highest-selling Voice artist in the show’s history.

“It’s an amazing thing to be able to say,” Smith says of topping “Hello.” “It just proves to me that I have so many supporters out there. That’s a special thing to know that people want to be a part of what you’re doing and that they want to experience something you’ve created.”

And the pop singer won’t be taking a long break from the charts if he has any say in it. Along with having a compilation album out now, Smith says fans can expect to see new music from him “pretty early” in 2016. “Thing are going to move very quickly,” he explains of putting out an album. “I’m very, very adamant about getting my music out there as quickly as possible and the label is with me in that effort.”

Before he plots his next move, Smith reflects on his favorite Voice performance, working with Adam Levine, and his “breakthrough moment” on the show.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on the big win! What was going through your mind when Carson Daly announced your victory?

JORDAN SMITH: I just went to tears immediately because it was such an exciting moment and I’ve loved the show for a very long time. Being a fan of the show is what initially caused me to audition, so for me to be standing there at the end having him say I was the winner was such a surreal, incredible feeling. But immediately my mind was like “Okay Jordan, slow down. Think about this. Remember this moment. Remember the sights, the smells, everything that you can take in, just take it all in and enjoy it.”

How do you possibly take the mic and sing after that?

I’ll tell you, it’s not nearly as easy as it looks. Before that I kind of forgot that that happened. Before we went out on stage to find out the results, one of the producers says, “Okay, so don’t forget that if you win you have to sing your song.” I was like “WHAT?” It kind of took me by surprise.

From the beginning you stood out because of your positive message — why was it important for you to tell America it was okay to be different and imperfect?

I think that the greatest thing we can do as humans is connect with other humans. I think that there’s a basic need in all of us to connect with other people, accept it, be it, and watch it. I wanted people searching for that connection to find it somehow. I wanted to inspire hope and emotion and joy in people. I think music is most powerful when it’s not only sung, but lived. I wanted my music to not just be a beautiful song, but I wanted it to be a song that meant something to someone and encourage someone and help someone.

From Beyoncé to Adele, you did make some bold song choices. How did you come up with those selections?

Song selection is one of the most important aspects of the whole show. First and foremost I wanted to sing music I connected with. But secondly I wanted to sing music I enjoyed, that I thought was good music. I wanted that to be another factor in the song choice and Adam is such a big part of that process. He picked many of my songs. I was able to submit some dream lists, songs I would do if I was ever given the chance, and many of my songs came from that, but many of them also just came from Adam’s mind and his own genius.

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It sounds like you and Adam had a good working relationship.

We really did build a very trusting equal relationship whenever it came to collaborating each week. I think that let me know that I picked the right team whenever he was up for those big challenges and trusted me to make those decisions for myself.

Adam did mention in the finale he had a different song in mind for your holiday selection. Which song was it?

I submitted a list very early on that had a few different songs on it and he chose from that list “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” which is a very wonderful song and I would’ve enjoyed singing it. But comparing what I was doing this week with that song and with the other artists and what I had been doing on the show, this turned out to not be exactly what I was hoping that week. So I mentioned adjusting it and he was very open to that. So I think that just speaks to the type of relationship we built throughout the show. Ultimately I appreciate that he said that to everyone.

Were there any other songs on your dream list you didn’t get to perform?

I did want to initially do “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and I expressed that to Adam, but the trajectory of where I was going on the show, it seemed like it was coming out of nowhere a little bit. So we kind of landed in the middle on “Somebody to Love,” which ended up being one of my favorite performances.

So if you had to pick a favorite performance from your time on the show, it would be “Somebody to Love?” Do you have a least favorite?

My favorite performance probably is “Somebody to Love” just because it is so unexpected. I really surprised myself and I think looking back, Adam — he’s very sneaky — he was leading me to a moment like this and showing me slowly what kind of artist I am, and bringing out something in me I didn’t now I had. And that was the week it all just kind of exploded and I had a breakthrough moment and realized that I actually am a performer and I have this other side to me.

I love all my performances for different reasons, but if I had to pick a least favorite I would probably say the song I had the most difficulty with was “Who You Are” by Jessie J. That week I was feeling very fatigued vocally. I was a little under the weather and I wasn’t feeling great. I had this amazing moment where I went on stage and I knew that my voice was at about 85 percent. I was reaching for some notes in that song and trying to do some difficult things. When I got on stage I was talking to my vocal coach and she was telling me maybe it’s a good idea to change those notes to lower notes, hold back a little bit so you have the voice to finishing this song strongly. And I had this amazing moment where I went on stage and I thought, “You know what, this song is about being who you are. It’s okay not to be okay. You don’t have to be perfect. If I don’t stand here and sing that with my entire heart then what am I doing singing a song like this?” So I decided that I was going to go for those things. And I do feel that some of those moments fell short, and that made it all the more special to me because I was standing there really feeling vulnerable.

You’ve gotten to sing with Adam and Usher on the show, but are there any other artists would you like to work with going forward?

I want to work with Tori Kelly. I love her voice. I was so jealous of Jeffrey [Austin] that he got to sing with her on the show. And I would love to sing with Adele if that was ever possible. If it was just me and her in a bus station one day and an open mic, whatever it is I would love to have the chance to hear her voice in person and sing with her.

Do you have an early ideas for what you’d like your first album to sound like?

When the time comes I think I’ll know the answer to that exactly in my heart but right now I just want to make an album that inspires people. I want to combine the power of instrumental music, because sometimes you just hear music that’s so beautiful, it just moves you, and there’s some times you hear lyrics that are so powerful they bring you to another place or they bring you back to another time in your life or they remind you of someone or something. I want to combine the power of that and make a really killer album, but I want to make an album people relate to. I want to make an album that really is all about connecting with people.

Jordan Smith: The Complete Season 9 Collection is available on iTunes now.

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