NBC's "The Voice" (Mondays at 8 p.m. ET and Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET) has seen many changes in its sophomore season: the Battle Rounds were longer, Christina Milian stepped into the Sprint Longue, Cee Lo got a cat named Purrfect and Christina Aguilera upped her style game. But perhaps the most surprising alternation on Season 2 was the added element of the instant eliminations, which kicked off in the first round of the quarterfinals on April 16.
And Jesse Campbell was the surprising first victim of the new elimination tool. The 42-year-old Gospel singer and the single father of now-11-year-old Soraya was once sleeping in his car as he struggled to succeed in the music industry and deal with his divorce.
The now-L.A. based artist had all four coaches on "The Voice" -- first Cee Lo Green, then Christina Aguilera, then Adam Levine and finally, Blake Shelton -- spin their chairs around during the Blind Auditions with his heartfelt rendition of the American classic "A Song For You," originally performed by singer/songwriter Leon Russell.
Campbell remained one of the standouts for the coaches and viewers throughout the competition, which was at least partially attributed to his sweet, but soulful voice and heartbreaking personal story (an unbeatable combination for a reality TV talent contestant). So when his own coach, Christina Aguilera, revealed Campbell would be the first to go home in the new instant eliminations on the April 16 performance night, one could practically hear the collective thud of "The Voice" viewers' jaws hitting the floor.
"I didn't think it would be me," Campbell told HuffPost TV. "I didn't think that my coach, who said that she would fight for me, would send me home. I felt as though she would continue to honor her words -- 'I would fight for you' -- and to me, that wasn't a fighting-for-me type decision."
Below, Campbell opens up about the elimination, his relationship with "Lady Christina" (as he calls her), what led to his emotional breakdown, forgetting the lyrics before his last-chance performance, what he'll do next and much more.
Like everyone else, my jaw dropped in last week's episode. When did you guys find out about the rules changing with the new instant elimination.
We didn't know when they were going to let the public know, but they informed us several days before the rule was actually implemented, on the day that I was sent home.
So when you heard that that rule was changing, what went through your head?
Well, at that moment, I thought, "Well, hopefully it's not going to affect me because I kind of feel as though I have a lot of favor from the coaches and the public." I was humbled by it and it made me a little concerned, but I thought, "Hey. Whatever's meant to be will be." And I just kept it moving from that point.
And when you were signing "Halo" by Beyonce that night, were you just trying to keep in the back of your mind or did it start to feel like you could really go home?
Well, I believe that we are all intuitive, but it's just a matter of how in touch we are with that intuition that makes a difference. For me, I was blessed throughout the day to thank the people behind the scenes as if my time had come to an end with the show. But then, for whatever reason, I got so nervous that I forgot the words to the song. I was up there like, "Oh my god! What is this? This is has only happened one other time!" And that was before I sang the national anthem for the Chicago Bulls big park celebration back in the '90s. But literally moments before I performed, I was so out of it to the point that I couldn't remember the words ... I turned around to see if there was anybody who could help me remember the words and I thought, "Jesse, what are you doing? Relax. Trust. Even if you have to hum it until you remember it, just do it. Let it be." So I turned around and just as I raised my hand up, I said, "God, please help me to remember the words" and then, oh my god, I remembered the first word! And my voice was a little shaky.
When the time came for Christina to reveal who she was saving and therefore, who would be going home, what were you thinking?
Surprisingly, I got really emotional because I'm thinking, "Wow. This part of the journey is over for someone." And I got emotional because I was thinking we became a little family and now the family is about to be broken up. And then I said, "OK, Jesse. Get yourself together. Whomever is chosen to go home, it is for the higher spirit. So get yourself together and prepare to be supportive." But I didn't think that it would be me because of the favor that I'd gotten from the coaches, especially when Cee Lo said, "You're the cat. You're the one." And then, to go on Jay Leno and make the comment and say that he's "concerned about Christina's team because that Jesse is so good." And then for Adam to say, "He's the one to beat." That's why I didn't think that my coach, who said that she would fight for me, would send me home. I felt as though she would continue to honor her words -- "I would fight for you" -- and to me that wasn't a fighting-for-me type decision. So when she said it, my heart just dropped and I was like, "Oh my god. Oh my lord!" And I was thinking, I'm going to have to leave, "What do I say?" But I just thanked everybody for the opportunity thus far.
All of the coaches turned around for you back in the blind auditions and continued to have wonderful things to say about you. After being voted off, did you have any regrets about choosing Christina?
No, I have no regrets. And I wouldn't change anything, simply because the God that is in me led me to choose Lady Christina. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I don't know why she chose to send me home, but I respect her as a person and as an artist. They asked her to be a coach for a reason and I do my best not to make assumptions so therefore, I don't have any regrets. So I just have to respect whoever made the decision to change the rules and to give her that right to send someone home and it just so happened to have been me. I don't feel as though she nor the show owes me an explanation because I signed up for a reality show and to me, reality is the unexpected.
Did you feel like you connected with Christina?
She invited us to her home and they prepared dinner for us and drinks and we had a wonderful time. That to me, it speaks volumes of her character. Being on the show, we are taking care of business and there are those that are there just to protect everybody so that's a professional part of it. So the only personal moments that we had were cherished moments of phone conversations and e-mail, which I'm humbled by alone. Because this is, to me, Lady Christina, who has taken time out of her super busy schedule to have a conversation with me? Oh, come on.
Has she reached out to since you went home?
No, only through Twitter. It was a general tweet of well wishes and that was basically it. And I'm appreciative of that. She doesn't owe me a phone call or anything. It's a professional situation and relationship that I respect.
Did you watch the show the night after you were voted off?
So what did you think of what Christina said about her decision?
I don't remember the words exactly, because I was sitting there and I was like, "Wow. I'm really not there. It's really sinking in that I am not there with her anymore." And I got a little emotional because I wanted to be there and I wanted to continue to receive her expertise and her tutelage. But I don't remember exactly what she said because I blocked it out for whatever reason.
I think it was something about wanting to work with "artists who could grow with [her]." Did you feel like she thought maybe she could shape a younger artist more than someone more established like yourself?
Well, I do my best not to make assumptions, but under these assumptions, they were younger in all aspects. And myself, I have been doing this for a very long time, but it's not as though I am not teachable ... But I can only hope that it was based upon they're being more trainable and because of their age in the industry and in reality … that's about all I could really say. I just don't know … But as Jay Leno told me, "You can never be too old, but you can be too young."
Other contestants and coaches seemed shocked by Christina's decision to send you home. Have any of the coaches reached out to you?
No. I was kind of hoping, based upon their comments that someone would. But again, I have to go back to not being attached to the outcome of things nor my expectations of others. I just need to keep it moving and know that everything happens for a reason. I believe that I will see each of them somewhere along the line in our careers, but I can only just hope for the best.
Fans have started an online petition to get you reinstated on the show. Have you heard anything from the show about that being something they'd consider?
We were told basically that once you're off the show, you're off. There is no coming back. And that's all that I have to go on.
It's not something they've done previously, but they also never had the instant elimination before.
That is very true. But me, I'm open to whatever it is that God has for me.
If they were to change that rule and you could be reinstated, would you want to be or do you feel like your time with "The Voice" is over?
[Laughs.] Oh my goodness, you know what? Wherever I have the opportunity to share this gift that God has given me with the world, I look forward to taking advantage of that.
Can you tell me a little bit more about song choices? Naia Kete on Team Blake made a comment about there being only so many songs to choose from before she went home.
Well, they have to get clearance. Every artist or performer may not want their song to be sung and that's one thing. Publishing, a lot of things come into play. So you submit the song you'd like to sing and/or they give you a list of songs already cleared, but it's not as cut and dry as people think.
How much say do the coaches have in what you sing?
Oh, the coaches rule.
Did you ever clash with Christina on song choice?
No, we really worked well as far as song choice. Like my next song would have been "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston. But she felt like we should do "Halo" [by Beyonce] to bring a contemporary edge as opposed to doing all slower ballads. So there were things like that. But with Coach Christina, she really allows your input and takes that into account to make the best decision. So she doesn't override you, but it was a collective effort and decision in choosing the songs.
In terms of Lindsey Pavao and Ashley De La Rosa -- the other members of Team Christina -- you are all teammates, but you're also competitors. What was that dynamic like?
I looked at each and every individual performer as a light. And their time on the platform before millions of people, it was their time to shine. I just did not for one moment, other than that Battle Round, see any aspect of that as a competition. I went in it to be the very best Jesse Campbell I could be. It may or may not be -- as it was in this case -- what they're looking for.
Who did you really connect with among the other contestants?
There were a few, but the closest relationship that I was blessed to develop was with Lindsey Pavao. It's primarily because she is so awesomely talented ... She helped me to be more social and I'd like to think that I -- as well as some other performers -- helped build her confidence. We were all there, yes, to shine individually, but collectively, to bring about the very best show for Season 2 of "The Voice." But, at the same time, I liken each of us to iron. And we come together as iron sharpening iron.
Obviously, viewers were touched by your personal story since the beginning and we'd seen you interact with your daughter. What was this like for her?
That was the most challenging moment for me as well because I convinced my daughter to allow the world to experience our world via the pictures [in the "Halo" performance]. And she said OK believing that it would be OK. And then, to be in the audience, seeing pictures that she's never seen before and reliving her childhood and her time with Daddy for all the world to see while Daddy is doing what he was born to do. She was with me on the streets while I sang. She was just so happy for Daddy. And then, to be sent home for no apparent reason, it was very challenging for her. But she just saw how Daddy was handling it and just knowing that it's for the highest good and at the same time, she also witnessed Daddy's emotional challenges three days later. It was OK. I wanted her to experience Daddy having an emotional upset of not understanding. But at the same time, the conclusion is, we know that all things work together for good. So therefore, she knows it's OK to have those emotional moments and to be in touch with the feelings that you're feeling because we are human. I don't ever want my daughter to think that I am perfect. So it was OK.
Was your daughter in school this whole time? Was that challenging?
Oh god. For me it was probably more so than for her. We had seen each other only a day or two every week and that was only when I performing on the show. They even allowed me a day with my daughter because I did have an emotional breakdown because it's every day that I take my daughter to school, you know, the mundane, beautiful things of life, and suddenly, it was being sequestered on the show. But we were blessed to go over to Universal Studios and we had the most wonderful time there.
It's nice to know they gave you that opportunity.
Well the whole production company, it seemed like a family.
You say it like you once felt that way, but now you don't?
I was going to say it seemed like a family of integrity, but things happened the way that they did and it's not so easy to say that anymore. I felt that the whole production was like a family, that's what I felt while I was there. And then, things just changed suddenly and people just expect me to be perfect and I'm not perfect. But I felt the love and I felt that family feel.
What would you say is the most important thing you learned from this experience, personally or professionally?
Personally, it's the same thing that I taught my daughter: You're not always in control of the outcome of things, but it's the effort that you put into the things you desire that bring about the results. I did what I believe to have been my best ... But from a professional point of view, I would have to say to really trust the artistic intuition and talent within. Because when you do that, if things don't turn out the way other people think, then you know that you followed that is what is within your heart. I could have maybe done things differently, but I believe I did what I could have done based upon what I felt and what I had. And the chips fell where they did and so, I'm picking them up and I'll be able to build something with that that will bring me closer to where I want to be.
I know it's soon, but has anybody else in the recording industry reached out to you?
Well, there are things on the table and people wanted to speak with me, but until I know what I can do and divulge, it's like I'm just being open and receiving of these infinite possibilities. "The Voice" stage to me was such a wonderful platform and I've been pushed off that platform into a sea of infinite possibilities ... So when I find out more, I'm so looking forward to letting the public know what it is that I'm doing.
"The Voice" airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET and Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.