Back in the day, when Chris Mann was a struggling singer in Los Angeles, I could talk to him anytime I wanted.
A fabulous self-promoter, Mann from Wichita always would let me know when hed scored an interesting gig (tour with India.Arie, small part on Glee).
Now, hes a significantly bigger deal.
Mann, who will turn 30 on Saturday, is now one of the last four contestants on NBCs hit singing competition The Voice. He was one of 48 when the show started in February. Thousands auditioned.
Week after week, aided by audience votes and his team coach, singer Christina Aguilera, Mann has remained in the competition. Next week, a winner will be crowned and will get $100,000 and a recording contract with Universal.
Its more difficult to get in touch with Wichitas superstar-on-the-verge these days, but not impossible.
Even though hes a big shot, he still returns e-mails, and anytime I ask him or his Voice publicist to set up a phone interview, Mann makes sure it happens.
I was able to talk to Mann again on Wednesday evening, the day after he made the final four.
He was calling from the set of The Voice, where he was about to go onstage to rehearse a duet hell sing with Aguilera on Monday nights show. He had only 10 minutes to talk, and he sounded tired.
Although he couldnt say what song theyll perform, he admitted that he prematurely planned the moment.
When I auditioned for the show, I auditioned with the song Im going to sing with her, Mann said. I said, The only reason Im here is because I have to sing this song with Christina. Its literally been my goal from day one. But I honestly didnt think Id get this far.
Mann said that the past few weeks have been surreal, a blur of family and friends flying in and out, rehearsing and trying to keep up with his own PR. Mann has long been a dedicated blogger, Tweeter and Facebooker, and he wants to keep up with the core fans who followed him even before he became so easily recognizable.
On Monday nights show, which starts at 7 p.m., Mann will perform both a solo and his duet with Aguilera. Audience votes after Mondays show will determine the winner.
The two-hour finale is set to begin at 8 p.m. Tuesday and also will include performances by Justin Bieber, Flo Rida and Lady Antebellum.
Mann said hes had a lot of time to ponder what has helped him make it so far on the show, and his best guess is that its the genre he chose.
Mann, who for years had tried to pursue a career in pop music, majored in opera at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. When he auditioned for The Voice, his plan was to stay in the pop opera genre that feels more authentic to him. During his run on The Voice, hes performed several soaring, operatic songs, including last weeks Ave Maria.
I think that being different and being unique in this group is very much an advantage for me, he said. There are four very unique finalists, but I think that I really am one of the most identifiable singers on the show because Im so random compared to everyone else.
As cliche as it sounds, Mann said, he feels like hes won no matter what the outcome is. He hopes that his post-Voice life includes a career in the pop opera genre he loves.
He also hopes it includes a trip back to Wichita to perform.
I know that Wichita has been completely over and beyond supportive of this ride, and Im very thankful to them, he said. I really cannot wait to come back there and sing.
He also promises that hell call back to talk again, no matter what happens on Tuesday.
Im going to hold him to that.