Anyone watching NBC's "The Voice" -- and there are a lot of you this season -- knows he has a killer voice. Turns out Nicholas David Mrozinski also has an uncommonly upbeat attitude and calm, spiritual mind.
Those qualities might become equally crucial as the Twin Cities area's highest-profile TV talent contestant of the past decade enters "The Voice's" final weeks. They certainly helped the Eagan-reared singer, 32, get through a half-decade of hard-knocking his way around Twin Cities music venues, according to his friends and family.
"Anytime things were looking kind of hopeless, he'd say, 'Dude, relax, we're still planting seeds,'" longtime bandmate Dylan Nau recalled.
How true that proved to be. Mrozinski's run on "The Voice" continues Monday after he was voted one of the show's final four.
A few days before his latest victory, the bearded, bespectacled, slightly Cousin Itt-looking vocalist -- a clear benefactor of "The Voice's" blind-audition opening -- spoke at length by phone from Los Angeles. If there was any doubt he's not your average contestant, his talk of Buddha and sobriety and the joys of fatherhood all sounded as sincere as anything he has voiced on TV.
"If you had told me a year ago that I'd be on a show like this, I'd have laughed," said the deeply soulful vocalist, known simply as Nicholas David on "The Voice" and Nick "The Feelin'" Mrozinski in local circles (the Feelin' is also his band's name).
He's not laughing now, though: "I feel like I'm in the best music school I ever could've enrolled in." What's more, he added, "I do believe everything in my life has led me to where I am now."
Power of love
One pivotal point came at age 8, when he played piano for his grandfather on his deathbed. "Tell him to never stop playing," Grandpa said -- a story that both Nick and his mother have to fight back tears to tell.
"It deeply touched him, and I think it's something that's still with him when he performs," Jennifer Mrozinski said.
A three-sport jock in high school, Nick was impressed by how music brought together different cliques at Eagan High when he and his classmates performed in their parents' basements.
He skipped out on college plans and relocated to Colorado for a few years. On his return, he joined the White Iron Band, a popular country-rock group, on keyboards. Its rowdy shows were a little too wild for him.
"I wound up being the sober guy in the White Iron Band, which didn't really work out too well," he said with a laugh. "Still, those were some great times."
He quit and started his own band, a funky hippie-soul group that never reached White Iron's level of popularity but worked hard, bouncing around Minneapolis' West Bank from the Cabooze to the Nomad to Palmer's Bar, where it had a regular Sunday gig, along with a weekly set at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul.
"It's funny to think that just a year and a half ago, I was stressing about how to fill up the calendar and find work," he said. "Honestly, I just left it up to God and said, 'Your call.' Things just sort of fell into place."
The Feelin' mostly played original tunes and not the classic songs Nick has performed on "The Voice," such as Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" -- although it did do a version of Huey Lewis' less-than-classic "Power of Love," which Nick sang on TV.
"Ours was a little more groove-oriented," quipped Mrozinski, who went on to sing the praises of his hometown.
"I have nothing but total respect and admiration for the music scene we have in Minnesota. There's just this great cast of characters there, and so much talent and experience to be had. Being away from it has given me more of a perspective on it, and I know I carried a lot of it with me out here."
All in the family
Around the time he started his band, Mrozinski met the future mother of his two boys, ages 5 and 1 1/2 (he asked to leave their names out for privacy). He credits Krista for helping him stay sober and eat healthier, while adding greater purpose to his music. His ever-growing beard is a gesture of solidarity with the fact she's now pregnant with their third child, due in February.
"It's amazing how much meeting the right girl can change you," he said.
The couple had plans to get married this year, but "The Voice" put a wrench in that. However, they went ahead and bought a house in St. Paul. Krista and the boys moved in without Mrozinski, who left for L.A. in early October and was unable to return home until a publicity-driven visit late last week that included an event at the Mall of America.
"That part of it has been really hard for him," said his mom, who usually watches Nick on TV with his sons. "They get really excited about it."
Said Nick, "The amount of support I've had back home has been incredible -- not just family and friends helping [Krista] with the boys but helping her with the move.
"The timing of this has just been so surreal," he added, welling with emotion again. "It's like two dreams coming true at the same time: I got my own place and my own big, beautiful family, and I got this incredible opportunity to further my music career."
This is where the level head and positive heart come in handy. His bandmate Nau visited him in Los Angeles two weeks ago and was shocked by the less-than-glamorous life he's leading. "They basically keep him holed up in his hotel most of the time," Nau said, "but he's obviously holding up well."
"I frickin' miss my family," Mrozinski said, before he finally got to come home ever so briefly Wednesday and Thursday to film local segments, including a two-song set at the Mall of America in front of a couple thousand fans.
"I take comfort in the idea that my success [on the show] could mean I wind up getting to spend more time with my family after this is over," he said.
Nicholas David doesn't plan to go lightly, in other words, a point proven by the bold performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that got him through last week's elimination round. Win or lose, contractual obligations leave him uncertain about his post-"Voice" career, although he happily reports that the rest of the Feelin' is rehearsing without him and says he hopes to rejoin the band in the near future.
"Honestly, I just put my faith and trust in the experience of this whole thing, and whatever happens I believe was meant to happen," he said.
Sounds like he's already a winner.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib