This is how confident we were that Tony Lucca would advance through this week's battle rounds on The Voice: We got a hold of him Monday morning — just as he'd completed a weekend performing on a rock cruise — to ask him if his missing facial hair would make a comeback in subsequent episodes, what really happened after Christina Aguilera failed to recognize her former fellow Mouseketeer ("Wake up," Christina!), and whether or not coach Adam Levine is actually a loveable, cocky rock star (or just a cocky rock star) when the cameras aren't rolling.
And, of course we grilled him all about MMC (that's Mickey Mouse Club for those who didn't grow up in the 90s), from dating Keri Russell and making Britney Spears swoon, to his affection for the soap-within-the-show Emerald Cove. In our minds, there's no doubt that it was the Mouse Club faithful that helped send "Tony Lucca" trending on Twitter immediately after he appeared on The Voice's second season premiere. (And — spoiler alert — we were right. The 35-year-old Waterford, Mich. native beat out Chris Cauley in a performance of U2's "Beautiful Day." On to the live shows!)
Right after your blind audition aired, "Tony Lucca" immediately blew up on Twitter. You think that's a lot of MMC die-hards reminiscing? Not that your rendition of "Trouble" wasn't damn fine...
Tony Lucca: There's a ton of MMC love there. Shortly after MMC was canceled it wasn't long before I was making records and getting on the Internet to see who was out there as far as the Mouse Club fan base. I was trying to hit up message boards to find fans and have fans find fans, just really trying to connect with as many as I could. I had a nice little mailing list going. Then MySpace came along and with it this influx of Mouse Club fans who wanted to know where I'd been all these years. Then came Facebook and another flood of people, and the same with Twitter. I think just when I thought they'd all come out of the woodwork, here comes The Voice. I think we've now seen the last of them. If they missed it before, they know now that I've been making music for the last, you know, 15 years.
Entertainment Weekly names you as their No. 1 pick going into the battle rounds.
Lucca: I was in Mexico and a friend sent me a text with a picture of that spread in the magazine. I was like, "What?!" That's huge. Well, I mean it's everything and nothing because after the battle rounds everything's going to shift around. And I can't lie and say that I don't think some of it has to do with the runaway story, the barrage of media coverage on the whole Christina thing. I'm sure that sort of helped put me out there a little further in everyone's perception of the show. But, yeah, I was also definitely flattered and honored.
The magazine also profiled your coach, Adam Levine, calling him a loveable douchebag. Now that you've worked with him, how accurate is that description?
Lucca: What people dig about Adam is yeah, he's got this particular brand of mojo that can be kind of intimidating, but I think ultimately he's very direct. The dude tells it like it is. For someone like me, you're sticking your neck out there to see what happens, you want someone who's going to give it to you straight. And while he kind of throws on the salesman charm when he's trying to get people on his team, I think he comes across as the most relateable in a way. With Cee Lo it's like "Where's this guy come from? What planet does he live on?" Similar thing with Christina. Blake's a pretty normal guy but he definitely clings to the country thing that may turn some people off. Adam is the modern rock star guy. Who doesn't love a good rock hero?
You've been at music for a while, recording and touring as an independent artist. (Lucca's song "Devil Town" was even featured on the Friday Night Lights soundtrack.) Why audition for The Voice now? What makes you feel ready to try your hand at "the big time"?
Lucca: If anyone can attest to the plight of the indie artist, it's certainly me. It's a wonderful path, extremely rewarding and gratifying most every step of the way. But after a while it's easy to wear out, making the rounds coast to coast every year only to show up and see the same 75-150 come to a club each time you're there. After a while, you want something else to help catapult you. Three or five years ago, I might have felt like I still had too much to prove, or that [auditioning] was beneath me or something. Or maybe 10-15 years ago I would have thought, "No, I'm going to get it the old-fashioned way. I'm going to get a band and play shows on the Sunset Strip. I'm going to get some A&R guy to come down and discover me and pay me seven figures to be a rock star." [Laughs] Those things are gone. That paradigm is gone.
I think independent artists now are constantly looking for the next avenue to break past the ceiling they find themselves hitting. I know for a lot of my friends, they put a lot of their efforts into music licensing, trying to get songs placed on Grey's Anatomy, putting thousands of dollars into campaigning for just one show because it has the power to break an artist. That sort of strategy didn't exist 10 years ago. Everyone's had to adapt. I think when The Voice came along, they showed you that not only were they not shying away from artists who had been established before, but that they were highlighting them. This was the show that was going to shed light on people who have been at this and are deserving of this kind of break. Obviously, that appealed to me greatly.
So it's safe to say you never auditioned for American Idol or The X Factor before?
Lucca: I never did. That approach, that kind of star-making machinery, didn't appeal to me. The Voice seemed a little more artist-friendly, a little more authentic.
Obviously, you knew that there was a possibility that Christina, whom you worked with on MMC, could wind up as your coach. Would that have been too weird?
Lucca: Yeah, I think if we were reunited and working together, that might make for some exciting TV, but I think as the show progressed it might be a little problematic, like a conflict of interest. But I was tickled to see that she turned around. I wasn't totally surprised that she didn't seem to recognize me there...
Really? You guys used to perform very memorably together!
Lucca: Well, in that environment, a zillion things running through your mind, I don't fault her. I mean, it's been almost 20 years. But to be totally honest, Adam is who I was hoping would turn around — and he turned around first. He pushed two buttons; it was a no-brainer for me.
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So truth — you knew Britney had a crush on you, right?
Lucca: I'm not gonna say I was naïve to the idea that that might have been going on. But again, I think it was more that the younger kids on the show looking up to the older kids. Specifically, with regards to Britney, she was a big Keri Russell fan and I was dating Keri at the time. I think that her crush might have just been like, "Oh, I love Keri's hair, Keri's car... and Keri's boyfriend."
Thinking back on those early days, what do you remember more fondly: Emerald Cove or Malibu Shores?
Lucca: [Laughs] There was a little more innocence going into to Emerald Cove that was a really wonderful time with those friends of mine. Driving to Malibu every day to go to work on Malibu Shores didn't suck. But thank God that was short-lived, you know? It could have been detrimental had it gone on too long. I was certainly flattered and grateful for the opportunity to be on an Aaron Spelling show on NBC show, but the scripts each week seemed like they were really trying to sabotage it somehow. We had a Saturday at 8 o'clock timeslot, so it seemed doomed from the get-go and you wonder who was in on the sabotage [Laughs]. But yeah, both those shows I have a lot of fond memories of for sure.
Has your son, who appeared with you before the blind audition, seen any of your work on MMC?
Lucca: Yeah, there's plenty of stuff on YouTube, but I don't know that he gets it entirely. It was a really quirky, goofy show. There wasn't much on there that I think would appeal to him. He definitely gets it in terms of people asking about it all the time, and I think it really hit him when he came out to L.A. with me and realized how big a celebrity this Christina Aguilera girl is. [He's] like, "You were as famous as her once?" When he sees me doing the choreography and the dancing and singing, he gives me this funny look.
Did you shave all that facial hair off just for The Voice?
Lucca: I did [Laughs]. When I went in for my first audition in Chicago, I was in the middle of a tour so I had a very big beard and longer hair. Since it's all about "the voice" I wasn't really concerned about it. When I got a callback to go to Los Angeles, I'd taken the advice of friends and family who had said, "You know, you should take the beard off." I shaved and when I showed up in L.A., I walk into the production office, and they're like, "Aaaaand, who are you?... What? Why did you do that?" My indie artist spirit wants to just look rough and rugged and not really give two sh—s, but I'm not sure I'll be able to grow it back for the show. We'll see.
What can you tell us about preparing for the battle rounds? How much did you actually get to work with Adam?
Lucca: We worked quite a bit. It's all very surreal, because at this stage of the game they don't want to give anyone too much of an advantage on any one team. It's not like I got his phone number and said, "Hey dude, I'll meet you at the Whiskey at 8 o'clock and we can hang out and talk about this battle round." Most of the time spent with the coaches is on-camera. They want to capture that excitement and element of surprise because of the guest advisers. That being said, it's very constructive time. ... Going into each of the sessions with him was just wonderful. I just took advantage of each little moment with him. I wasn't so surprised who he paired me up with, but I was a little bummed because I really took to this person. We had a nice rapport together. Adam picked the song and it's a big one — huge. It required getting the greenlight from the original artist themselves. You start to realize, I guess we are at that level of the game where if Adam Levine wants a song for The Voice, he can just call the artist up and get it.
What do you think of Tony Lucca's chances of winning The Voice? Do you miss MMC and can you still recite the theme song?