Photo courtesy of Elyjuh Rene.

When Long Beach native Elyjuh Rene hit the stage of NBC’s The Voice, the 18-year-old singer took on a song that most songstresses would avoid, let alone a male singer: Beyoncé’s “XO.”

With a beautiful range and a deep register that brings about jealousy even within the most machismo of singers, his risky song choice earned him—singing behind the four backs of musician gods who could not see him no less—the adoration of Pharrell, who has guided and coached the young singer through the first part of the series before it goes live next week.

That’s right: this impressive vocalist, whose stylings pull the strings of androgyny in way that might even make Sam Smith take notice, blasted through the blind auditions, the battle round (where he ousted Maiya Sykes through his particularly unique vocal tailoring and earned the trust of, yet again, Pharrell) and the knockout rounds (where he sang a “technically perfect” version of Chris Brown’s “With You” which, once again, got Pharrell to hold onto him).

Elyjuh02Whether Pharrell’s interest in Rene is his talent, his quirky personality, his strangely captivating stage presence (or hell, all of the above), it could very well come down to how humble the artist is.

Unlike most reality show contestants, particularly the singing competitions, Rene exudes a Long Beach sense of humility—after all, this isn’t his first attempt at getting recognized.

“I started doing local competitions a long time ago,” Rene said. “I figured I should do these smaller shows and then go national. So first I went to [Fox’s] American Idol—that was a no. Then I went to [Fox’s] The X Factor—and got another no. When you get denied over and over, you can’t help but worry or second-guess yourself. You can’t help but wonder, ‘Am I really meant for this?’”

Rene’s love for music has been a lifelong one, where he has fond memories of learning and memorizing songs—as a three-year-old, mind you—prancing around the house to perform at any chance possible. Though his home might have been his first stage, it was Long Beach’s Bibleway Baptist Church that became his musical homestead.

“Gospel and church have been the biggest influences in my life—outside my Mom, of course,” Rene said. “Going to church with my family just… It gave me a home. And a stage. I didn’t feel like I ever had to be someone I wasn’t and it allowed me to escape judging eyes.”

The relationship Rene has with his mother and her support have been key in developing his success. They won over audiences when they appeared in matching white-and-black leopard print shirts for the blind auditions and have since shown that they work together: whenever Elyjuh is overwhelmed by the chance to continue in competition, his tears of shock are always accompanied by encouraging words from his mother.

“My Mom is an influence in and of herself,” Rene said. “She’s a singer herself so she has just been this rock of sorts, a force for me since day one. And every time I step onto a stage, there she is. I’m not just doing this for me… We’re gonna kill it together. Every time.”

Rene’s influences also seep into the secular, with soul classics like Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye sitting right next Elyjuh’s copies of Alicia Keys and Maxwell records. However, Rene remains adamant that R&B, though single-handedly what he naturally leans toward, will not be the only genre in his repertoire. From pop to jazz, rock to “whatever,” Rene insists that there’s nothing more boring than normal and the confines a box are precisely what artists need to escape.

“I am a R&B/Soul singer at heart; I grew up on it,” Rene said. “There’s this passion within R&B that just can’t be found elsewhere… When you sing it, it’s in your heart, it’s this thing within your soul. But I am not going to limit myself. If Pharrell comes up and says, ‘Hey I have a pop song,’ I’m gonna do it.”

Elyjuh Rene faces his first live show on Monday, November 10, when The Voice hits television screens at 8PM on NBC.