The Voice contestant Kevin Hawkins is passing on the advice to UNT College of Music students that has made him a fan favorite on the popular singing competition.
"Every time I step on stage, I say to myself, 'I'm a force,'" he told the students after fielding questions about performance anxiety and making it in the business at a discussion Oct. 18. "It's something you have to say to yourself."
Hawkins, who attended UNT from 2012 to 2013, says he started using that phrase about five years ago. He's since worked his way up in the music business, garnering rave reviews with his performance of the Stevie Wonder classic "Isn't She Lovely" on The Voice.
"I said if I'm going to be in this business, I know I have to bust down, knock down doors and tell myself, 'You are a force, you're meant to be here, this is your life and you know this is your life.'"
He stops to take a breath, as he almost tears up. "I'm sorry I'm getting emotional. It's crazy. Oh gosh."
Hawkins grew up singing in church in his hometown of Lancaster. A few gigs -- such as performing for U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, singing at a Prince tribute at the Majestic Theater in Dallas and landing second place at the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition -- affirmed his decision to sing professionally.
He attended UNT -- where he lived in West Hall and hung out at Fry Street -- until his career took off. He worked with artist Keke Wyatt, opened for Erykah Badu and sang on Oprah Winfrey's 2020 speaking tour. He also taught piano at Lancaster ISD.
Hawkins' big break came as he was about to move to Los Angeles. Producers for The Voice wanted him to audition. He had already tried out for the show three times.
But the fourth time he got the chance to sing in the blind auditions, and he was a hit.
Wearing a silver silk suit and giving the Wonder tune some jazz inflections, he won over the group of musician judges.
"When I saw all four of them spinning their chairs around, I was like this is really happening for me," he says. "Gwen (Stefani) first, then John (Legend), then Camila (Cabello), then Blake (Shelton)."
"It was like, 'OK, I'm really here, like I finally made it,'" he says. "And for Gwen and John to both agree that this was a Grammy-worthy performance was awesome."
He performed in front of Wonder at a political fundraiser in Los Angeles this week. He hopes there's more to come. His dream is to win a Grammy, as well as to work with Beyoncé, Legend and Wonder.
He has to pinch himself when he's on The Voice set.
"Sometimes you're in front of these people and it's just like I've literally worked my whole life to get here and now that I'm actually here, I'm getting phone calls every day. I know sometimes famous people talk about everything just moving so fast. I'm actually trying to take a step back and try to live in the moment."
Hawkins says he's grateful to UNT for giving him the foundation for singing.
During his visit, he dispensed valuable advice to the students to be proactive instead of reactive. For example, since he knew he would be appearing on The Voice, he set up his public relations ahead of time.
"Take care of your voice," he said as he demonstrated a straw device he uses that helps with his air flow. "And know when and when not to engage on social media."
He also told them to build connections and be authentic.
"As an artist, it's not just your voice. It's your personality, your look, your social media presence."
And to remember why you sing.
"For me, it's not about being famous. It's genuinely about making people happy."
Then he led the group in this mantra.
"Everyone say, 'I am a force,'" he said, and the students repeated it back to him. "Say, 'I can kill that.'" The students burst out laughing.