Local singer-songwriter Jon Hafferman aims at national television exposure
By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
A Front Royal, VA native and former lead singer of the Florida-based country rock Diablo Canyon band, has set off on a different path into the national consciousness. That path is a shot at performing in front of a national television audience on one of the “reality” talent hunt shows that have become so popular in recent years – this one is NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
Jonathan “Jon” Hafferman has spent much of the past 20 years, mostly based in Florida, pursuing his musical dream, while often supporting that dream with “real” work. For as anyone who has flirted with the music business knows, the glamorous, high-flying “rock star” lifestyle stereotype comes to but a few on the back end of years of decidedly unglamorous, van-propelled, road trips, seedy venues, often distracted audiences, and the type of internal squabbling that characterizes an art form involving the collective product of a group of artists, in this case musicians. (I suggest renting the movie “The Commitments” for perhaps the most entertaining and insightful primer on the lifestyle).
Feeling the pull of family ties and personal roots, the 44-year-old Hafferman relocated to his native Warren County last year. In fact he points out it was his sister, Joy Colton, who submitted his name and musical resume to the producers of the show “America’s Got Talent.” That submission resulted in a first-round audition at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center on the Maryland side of Washington D.C. on Feb. 13. Hafferman, who performed under the stage name Jonathan Wade for the first-round “America’s Got Talent” scouts, says he was very satisfied with his one original, one cover song audition.
However, showing that he is firmly grounded in the reality of musical dreams, he asked us if it was all right to include the information he is seeking area musicians to work on an album project he would like to see completed by the onset of summer – (how’s that for a subtle, up front plug, Jon? Not that a classified would hurt either).
Showing some of his musical roots, Hafferman (Sorry Jon-boy, I can’t get used to Wade) selected 1960’s Motown stalwarts The Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain” for his cover, adding an original ballad penned with son Cody – “Heaven” in his quest for the next round of America’s Got Talent.”
“I feel good about it,” Hafferman said of his first-round audition. “I was comfortable, I was rested up and did what I needed to do to get the pipes just right.” – which is a good thing since Hafferman was told to report to the DC-area audition at 8 a.m., hardly a familiar time for popular musicians of any style. But Hafferman wasn’t the only musician dragging themselves out of bed a who knows what time for the shot at network TV exposure. The auditions ran from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Hafferman estimated around 600 on hand to give it their best shot.
“It was great. There were a lot of people there. I saw a lot of talent, people came from everywhere with all different kinds of styles – there was opera, there was jazz, there was country, there was blues, rock & roll, rap. There were dancers there, everything.”
Asked to rate some of the competition he witnessed waiting his turn, Hafferman said, “Some of them were really, really good. Like I said there was a lot of talent there. And that’s one thing when you go to something like this, you never know what kind of talent you’re going to be surrounded by till you get there and hear these people.
“Actually in the audition room where we were separated from other musicians and other genres of music, I didn’t really find anything that would be compatible to what I was doing. A lot of R&B was there, a lot of newer things – Britney Spears, how would I classify that (be nice, Jon) – a newer type of thing that you’d see on MTV or VH-1. There was a lot of that there, a lot of young people – and old people, I say old, about my age. And some were older than me. I saw a couple guys that were in the 50’s, early 60’s going up and doing their thing.
“What I really wanted to present to the judges was something along the lines of Motown, but on a different tick. I grew up around Motown, my parents were born and raised in DC, so most of The Temptation songs I’m very familiar with. And I picked ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ because it’s such a good, wholesome tune that basically everybody can relate to. If you hear the words of that song, everybody’s been there; everybody’s had their heart broken. But it wasn’t about the broken heart, it was about being soulful through the rocky side of life. It was good – I enjoyed it, myself.”
Hafferman, or should I say Wade? – said his performance seemed to go over well in front of the four judges at this first-round venue. He said initial feedback likened his vocal style to a combination of Bob Seeger and Greg Allman – not bad if you are grounded in a soulful, American country-rock, R&B-tinged framework.
“There were no celebrity judges [at this stage],” Hafferman observed, noting however that there were music business professionals on hand, one would assume in the talent scouting mode.
As for expectations, Hafferman mixed a musician’s dreams and the “if” that characterizes the reality accompanying such dreams.
“Absolutely,” he said of the goal of national exposure in rounds broadcast across the country. “If I do go on to the second round, the next round will be down in Miami. And after that, the following round will be in Chicago. And when they do the taping of the show, which will air on NBC – that will be in New York City. And that’s what I’m, everybody is working up to.”
Hafferman said the televised round judges include David Hasselhoff, who while known best as a TV star in America (maybe he’ll bring some of the “Baywatch” lifeguards along), has a strong musical following in Europe; Sharon Osbourn (Ozzie’s wife), and I’m not really sure who the last one is – he’s somewhere along the lines of a Simon Cowell, he’s the controversial one.” (we’ll make sure to cut this part out online, Jon, so he doesn’t know you didn’t know his name)