A Curious Choice For An Iconic Moment

Admittedly, this post will show my age. I was eating lunch yesterday and going through my phone when I saw that someone named Josh Kaufman had been chosen to sing (Back Home Again in) Indiana along with the Indiana Children’s Choir, at this year’s Indianapolis 500. My first reaction was “who?”

So I went to Wikipedia to find that, contrary to the press release stating that Kaufman is a native Hoosier, he is actually a native Floridian, who moved with his mother to Blacksburg, VA. Apparently, he has been living in Indianapolis for the past five or six years. His claim to fame is that he won The Voice in May of 2014.


Most that know me will not be surprised to learn that I’ve never seen The Voice. Susan watches it from time to time, but I don’t. About ten years ago, I watched a couple of seasons of American Idol. That probably fulfills my quota for watching reality singing contests for the next thirty years or so.

Knowing that Susan was more familiar with The Voice than I was and that she is much more up on pop-culture than I am, I texted her to ask if she knew who Josh Kaufman was. She didn’t.

So, I went to You Tube to see who this guy was and what kind of voice it took to win The Voice. I was hoping to come upon several videos featuring someone with a booming baritone voice. I wasn’t looking for a Jim Nabors clone, but someone with a voice that commanded more stage presence than last year’s a cappella group; Straight, No Chaser.

Knowing that everyone was expecting me to despise anyone who wasn’t Jim Nabors, I did my best to give them a chance last year. But in all honesty, their performance in that setting left me cold. It might sound good on the stage of an auditorium, but in the giant outdoor setting that IMS provided, I felt something got lost in their performance. It just seemed a little…light.

So not knowing who Josh Kaufman was, I had my hopes up that this would be a powerful voice that could belt out that iconic song. After listening to a few samples on You Tube, I was underwhelmed. The best way I can describe Mr. Kaufman’s voice was that it was a soft and airy version of Michael Bolton. If you knew me in the early nineties, you’ll know that was no compliment. Michael Bolton’s voice made me change the radio station quicker than any other. He sounded like Harry Caray wailing in pain with laryngitis. So imagine a softer version of that on Race Morning. Here’s a sampling of Josh Kaufman’s work.

Doug Boles and his staff have done an absolutely tremendous job in promoting the upcoming 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. From the special tickets to events like the 100-day countdown at Midnight on the Yard of Bricks – this event has had a special feel to it, even more so than the 2011 100-year celebration. And it is showing up in ticket sales, as this year’s race appears headed for the first sellout in over twenty years. So I have high praise for everything Boles has done up to this point.

With that in mind, I guess you could expect a clunker here and there. It’s just a shame that it came with what is my favorite part of the pre-race ceremonies,

Last year was a firing squad for anyone stepping up to the mic to sing that song. It’s like being the coach to follow John Wooden, Bear Bryant or Vince Lombardi. It’s a no-win situation to follow a legend. Anyone, no matter how great they were, would have a hard time being accepted.

Had it been last year or next year, I may be OK with someone I had never heard of with a wispy high-pitched voice. But this is the milestone 100th Running. I expected more.

Saving the day may be the Indiana Children’s Choir. Presumably, they will back up the winner of The Voice. I think a much better choice would be to have them perform alone. I really like this version and would be fine if this was what we got on Race Day.

I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind this choice. Were they turned down by every Holiday Inn lounge singer within a fifty-mile radius of the track? Was this the deal they made when they got Blake Shelton for Legend’s Day; that they had to take a former winner of The Voice to perform my favorite part of the day, except for the race itself? Were they limiting their choices to Indiana residents? Aside from last year’s Straight, No Chaser there have been only a few Hoosiers tabbed to sing the pre-race song. Nabors was no Hoosier. Nor was James Melton, who was the first to perform and sang it five times between 1946 and 1954. Dinah Shore was from Tennessee and Mel Tormé was from Chicago.

Besides, I’m not sure you can call a thirty-nine year old who moved to Indianapolis five or six years ago a real Hoosier. Since Kaufman currently lives in Indianapolis, maybe IMS figured they could save on airfare and hotel. I wonder how many Race Day performers have slept in their own bed the night before the race.

The reaction on Twitter and Facebook seems to be mixed. Many obviously had no idea who Josh Kaufman was, like me. Others applauded the selection, but many of those were cheering the fact that the Indiana Children’s Choir would be part of the act.

I will keep an open mind and hope that I am pleasantly surprised. I have no choice. It’s not like they’re going to go back and uninvite him simply because a grumpy overaged blogger sitting at a keyboard in Nashville doesn’t care for the pick. I’m having a hard time imagining how his voice will mesh with the children’s choir, but perhaps I’ll be proven wrong. It’s certainly happened before. In the meantime, I’m putting in my request for next year’s singer right now – TV personality Mike Rowe. Now, he can sing!

George Phillips

32 Responses to “A Curious Choice For An Iconic Moment”

  1. It’s funny George, my band and his band were in the semi-finals of a long, drawn out “Battle of the Bands” contest here in Indy three years ago and we blew his band out of the water and moved on, only to lose in the finals. But when this choice was announced I asked my wife “who (because she keeps up with crap like The Voice)” and she reminded me of the Battle. Little scrawny guy who always wears a funny hat and has not much stage persona. Oh well.

    • Olderfan Says:

      Phil, I definitely think that you and your band should perform at the 500. You represent everything that anyone could expect of a lifelong Hoosier m

  2. JP in Colorado Springs Says:

    terrible choice George. Can’t believe the speedway blew this. Should have been someone ICONIC! Shades of Guy Fierri driving the pace car.😡 I’d rather have seen a Jim Nabors video.

  3. local personality for a national moment.

  4. Needs to be accompanied by The Perdue Marching Band.

    • typo, apologies to Purdue 🙂

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Difficult to keep those chickens in a straight line

      • billytheskink Says:

        Ha ha!

      • When a few of my classmates and I in chemical engineering started a student chapter of a technical society at Purdue, the society’s home office in CT sent us a plaque proudly proclaiming the establishment of the chapter at “Perdue University”. That was before Perdue expanded beyond the East, so we were baffled until a classmate from NJ explained the screwup.

  5. SkipinSC Says:

    First, I disagree about Straight No Chaser. Because of their connection to IU, they seem like a logical choice going forward, particularly considering that the other major state University (Purdue) has a rather large presence at the 500. Maybe that means nothing to those of you who DON’T call Indiana home, but to a place that used to have a one-day-a-year shelf life (before the Colts,) it still means something. Some of your reaction to them MAY have resulted from the PA system at IMS; Watching them last year on TV, I could not tell if that system had been upgraded or not, but I’m sure if it hasn’t, it’s on Doug Boles “to do” list.

    As to Josh Kaufman, I COMPLETELY agree. The song itself screams for either a very strong tenor (a la Placido Domingo or Luciano Pavarotti,) or a rich baritone, and Kaufman is neither. I would welcome a soloist or a chorale from the military (in keeping with the Memorial Day theme.) At the very least IU has several “artists in residence” who are very good (and not without an element of tradition at the Speedway if you recall 1986, the year rain forced the race into a second weekend, when one of the operatic “artists in residence” from IU filled in on the second weekend, and did a reasonable job. Check YouTube for the full race broadcast.)

  6. Samir: No one in this country can ever pronounce my name right. It’s not that hard: Na-ghee-na-na-jar. Nagheenanajar.

    Michael Bolton: Yeah, well, at least your name isn’t Michael Bolton.

    Samir: You know, there’s nothing wrong with that name.

    Michael Bolton: There *was* nothing wrong with it… until I was about twelve years old and that no-talent ass clown became famous and started winning Grammys.

    Samir: Hmm… well, why don’t you just go by Mike instead of Michael?

    Michael Bolton: No way! Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.

  7. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I enjoyed Straight No Chaser last year. As you said, nobody could step in immediately following Jim Nabors without harsh comparison. I appreciate the idea of a group singing this (much as the original Singing Hoosiers did ‘The 500’ and ‘Back Home Again’ on their recording from 1961). I was hoping for possibly the Purdue Men’s Glee Club or even SNC again. I just hope this doesn’t become a rotating door of flavor of the month celebrities like driving the pace car had become.

  8. Ron Ford Says:

    I was hoping for a video presentation of Jim Nabors. There have been kids on Steve Harvey’s new show “Little Big Shots” that could do better than this guy. What, the food guy with the bad hair was not available?! This reminds me of the time the wife of a Harley Davidson exec. invited Elton John to the 100th anniversery rally of Harley riders in Milwaukee. When he finished his act a silence fell over the few people in the crowd who had not gone to the beer tent. Please tell me that the guy who screams out “RACE FANS, ARE YOU READY??!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! will not also be included. I will use my mute button and listen to JIm.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I changed my mind. After some black coffee and a bowl of positive flakes, I have decided to give these folks a listen and hope for the best on race day. After all, who am I to question one’s singing voice? When I sing in the shower the water won’t even come out.

  9. Christopher Says:

    I am surprised they were allowed to choose somebody “known” from an NBC show given that the race is broadcast on ABC

  10. I feel exactly the same, we actually WATCH The Voice and I still didn’t remember him.

    I really hope IMS doesn’t take their cue from the Chicago Cubs who have turned the 7th Inning stretch singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” into a revolving door sh*t show of any lackey celebrity who is in town to promote some horrible product/show/album/movie or pulling every single known and unknown athlete who can’t sing worth a carp.

    The biggest pop last year at Wrigley was the VIDEO of Harry Caray singing. I say, keep video of Jim or truly find a decent voice (as mentioned, baritone/bass) who is willing to commit the last Sunday in May for at least the next 10 years and go with it. I like the suggestion above that there’s very likely an available Military baritone who can sing in uniform, but the key with all this is really someone who is a Hoosier….

  11. Mike Silver Says:

    What puzzles me up s why IMS chose both Kaufman and the children’s choir. The choir does a beautiful rendition of the song. Just because a guy wins a tv popularity contest doesn’t make him a good choice. His celebrity is more wave the green flag on practice e day level

  12. S0CSeven Says:

    I sing baritone in a 50 man male voice choir ….. and we could kick ass here if given an opportunity.

    However, I applaud the choice of the children’s choir just because they’re local and, as a choir, will sing the song the way they’re instructed. Our choir doesn’t have a top tenor who could sing the soprano notes this guy does. Possibly he was picked because his voice matched the children in vocal range.

    I Dunno.

    But I will say this. I don’t care who sings it BUT, I hope the people who selected Kaufman beat him (and the choir director) with a stick and said that you will NOT “make this song your own”. You will NOT “own this song”.

    You WILL sing it the way Jim did! ………… and I’d be OK with that.

    Let’s go racing……..

  13. Well, who am I to complain about the performance of a song that I have been singing since kindergarten when I haven’t heard it yet? I’ll trust Doug Boles with this and I’ll be singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” regardless of who has the microphone. Nothing will diminish my excitement for the “100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.”

  14. billytheskink Says:

    It is going to be a while before IMS finds its next Jim Nabors, I expect to see several different folks tried out over the next several years.

    That said, I am surprised by this particular choice. If going the singing competition route, IMS should have held their own “The Voice” to choose the next “Back Home Again” singer.

    Of course, I would have voted for Peter Wolf, but I say that about most musical performances…

  15. The performance needs to be a recording of Nabors or the Purdue band playing as the crowd sings along.

  16. I too had no idea who he was. My opinion was that it would be better to just have the choir for this year, then think about adding someone next year, if necessary. The two main reasons are A) You’re not replacing Jim with a single person, and B) The choir will be timeless, sounding the same every year.

  17. A guy I haven’t heard of before? Meh. OK. That describes 98% of the people making music of any type anymore, anyway.

  18. Ron Ford Says:

    Just for grins, imagine Elvis-minus sprach zarathustra-in a jeans jacket singing the song straight up. That would have been powerful. “Thank ya baby”.

  19. Bruce Waine Says:

    AEROSMITH ! ! .. for Back Home Again in Indiana…….

    With JIMI’S rendition of the Star Spangler Banner ! ! !

  20. EDGAR Emmitt Says:

    We have had this major build up to the 100th running , were all excited and can’t wait until May 29th.
    It’s reminds of life itself we wait for that special vacation or event in life and when it’s all over you often look back and say OK.
    Life is the journey, the distnation often is so so.
    Media has a way of over hyping these days for the almighty dollar.
    Jim Nabors and the Purdue band would get my heart racing because I knew something big was about to happen.
    Let’s all hope that this years event delivers on the hype.

  21. I’m not much on tradition, gasp, so I really don’t care who sings it.. I’m more concerned with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. How many times is that sung properly? 10%? Who is doing that this year? Hopefully it’s a choir or choir member, or military person, rather than some “recording star” who can’t sing worth a crap.

  22. I don’t want to kick up controversy here, but I think the idea of a RECORDING of Jim Nabors is LUDICROUS. I venture to guess that some of those who propose this are still waiting for the second coming of the front engine Offy.

    Look, I GET that Jim Nabors did a fabulous job over the course of his career, but it is truly time to move on. Jim has, and we as fans should too.

    I also agree with those who are (to put it nicely) DISPLEASED with many singers who attempt to make “The Star Spangled Banner” an exercise in vocal gymnastics. Francis Scott Key did not write it with “runs” and I find it completely LACKING in taste to “interpret” the Anthem as one sees fit. Sing it the way it was written or sit the Hell down.

    • Agreed. On all counts. I’m not looking to preserve the Jim Nabors sound for eternity. I would just like that style continued. I remember when others performed it, before and during the Nabors tenure. They all had their uniqueness, but were all done with taste. I’m hoping Mr. Kaufman can use the same taste. – GP

    • I agree with Skip, but his first sentence has also given me an idea. Given Marco Andretti’s base of friends, it might even be able to happen. Perhaps this is the year we break with tradition and go for new demographics with a completely different version of “Back Home Again”, as performed by Ludacris.

  23. I knew it was a slim-to-none chance, but I was hoping that Jim Cornelison would be chosen. I’m coming from Texas for the 500 and a lot of it is selfish. As others stated, this isn’t an “Indiana-only” event, so there’s no reason that the person HAS to have some Indiana connection. However, he does have a Master’s from IU.

    I hadn’t thought much about the “sound” of the voice and how it would sound at the track. I’m not that musically knowledgeable. After reading, he would fit the bill with the booming voice that he has.

    He would have done it, if asked. There’s no doubt. I lot of people were tweeting about it and he would retweet them, whether it was to sing the anthem (which is what he’s known for) or “Indiana.”

    If you read this and don’t know who he is, it’s not hard to find videos on YouTube.

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