Making opera sexy

Wichitan elevates singing career through stint on TV

STORY BY Laura Roddy

Wichita native Chris Mann has been working steadily at a singing career for 10 years. He has performed on soundtracks for Glee and The Smurf and toured with India.Arie and Idina Menzel.

The fact that he has been able to make his living as a working musician the last few years  no more bank or restaurant jobs to get the bills paid  is a measure of success by many standards.

Still, it was not until his debut on the competitive reality television show The Voice that his exposure went through the roof.

It's been the break I've been waiting for, said Mann, who turns 30 this month. It's literally like being a kid in a musical candy shop. The 2012 edition of The Voice on NBC premiered after the Super Bowl and was the highest-rated non-sports show in six years.

Mann, who has largely been responsible for his own social media  including updating a blog regularly  went from hustling to get 100 new Twitter followers a month to gaining 10,000 followers in a day.

It's a whole new way of fan-building.  It was really gratifying to have such a boost, Mann said. That's really the dream.

Mann is hoping that his stint on The Voice, working with Christina Aguilera as his coach, will catapult his solo career. He is a classical crossover artist in the vein of Josh Groban, Susan Boyle and Michael Buble.

Mann's family didn't really even know he could sing until high school. His older sister, Becky, trained as a classical pianist, and his parents signed him up, too.

I can remember him being in a recital in his baseball uniform, said his mom, Patti. He absolutely hated it and was horrible at it. Chris said he was almost embarrassed by his voice when he was younger and sang only in his closet.

I've always had this soulful R&B voice, Mann said.

It was meaningful to Mann to discover records made by his maternal grandfather, who at one point had gone out to Hollywood and tried to make it as a singer. Mann compared his grandfather's voice to Frank Sinatra's.

I feel a complete connection to his dream, Mann said.

Becky, a Wichita lawyer, said that even though she recognized Chris's talent, she never really understood until recently the amount of commitment and work he puts into his singing career.

One of Becky's favorite musical memories with her brother was of her senior piano recital in college. The best part of my recital was him singing, she said. Becky says her brother keeps getting better. I have never heard him singing the way he is now.

She is also impressed with how he is taking the new-found attention in stride.

I know he's nervous on the inside, but he carries himself so professionally,Becky said. It's humbling to him; it's amazing to us. Mann said he is looking forward to returning to Wichita soon.

It just feels really good that Wichita cares, he said. It's such an amazing arts city.

The mom behind The Voice

This Mother's Day, singer Chris Mann is grateful not just for the support of his mom, Patti, but also for some elements of her personality he inherited. A lot of my tenacity and wherewithal is because of my mom, Chris said. She is the same way. She is resourceful; she knows everybody. Without that sort of character, I think I would have given up a long time ago. Patti and her husband, Mike, a pharmacist, are getting a kick out of their son's time in the spotlight. They were out in Los Angeles and were recognized as Chris Mann's parents.

Patti said it is also nice to have people taking notice of Chris's career. I had a friend who said, You are the one person who has bragged about their kid, and it really was true, Patti said. Patti points to several key mentors who have helped usher Chris along his career path  Marvin Latimer at Southeast High School, Vernon Yenne at Wichita State University and Jonathan Retzlaff at Vanderbilt University.

Seriously, all we did was step back and let it happen, Patti said. We just went along for the ride. She was happy to sign Chris up for vocal lessons, drive him to singing competitions and watch him perform with Music Theatre for Young People and Music Theatre of Wichita. Through it all, though, she made sure to stay in the background. He has to be his own best advocate, Patti said.

And Chris is not the only Mann who has a website and is active in an arts business. Check out www. Patti sells hand-painted needlepoint canvases to retailers across the country.

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