The Texas Tenors
Three country boys sing their way into the hearts of America.
Photography: Courtesy The Texas Tenors
In their snazzy black cowboy hats in the dim light, The Texas Tenors — JC Fisher, Marcus Collins, and John Hagen — emerge in silhouettes out of a shadowy backdrop onto the stage like three gunfighters. It’s a fitting image for three guys who fought their way through dark times to come into the light of their musical dreams.
Tonight’s concert in front of a sold-out crowd at Grand Canyon University Arena in Phoenix is being recorded for a PBS special, You Should Dream, which airs November 30, just before the December 8 release of their new CD by the same name. Backed by the Phoenix Symphony, the trio will put on a killer show full of humor and charisma, singing through a repertoire that runs the gamut from “Danny Boy” and a couple of Italian arias to a Miley Cyrus song and some original tunes. Even before the house lights dim, the energy in the air suggests that it’s going to be a great night. When the stage lights come up, there’s confirmation: The crowd goes wild with cheering and the trio breaks into “Mountain Music.”
It will indeed be a night to remember (as well as the PBS special and eventual live-in-concert DVD, also due out December 8). The tenors will get the audience yee-hawing with great country tunes and will also deliver on moving classical, inspiring gospel, energized pop, and theatrical Broadway hits. They’ll even render opera so beautifully that you’d swear you were front-row center at The Met.
It’s a show that travels amazingly well internationally. The Texas Tenors have played in more than 20 countries, the latest being China. “We received an e-mail from a producer who presents concerts in China who heard about our group on China’s Got Talent and thought the Chinese audience would love us,” Collins says. It was years in the making (government approvals were required), but the Chinese one-night-only performance was finally scheduled for September 6 at the Shanghai Centre theater. The guys hope it’s a first introduction that will be followed by an extensive tour of the country in the future.
Cowboy hats and classical music, Texas and tenors — it’s a surprising juxtaposition that has the power of international diplomacy as well as the power to charm audiences back home. The winning idea was based on the two things the three men have in common: their singing range (a tenor is between baritone and countertenor) and the Lone Star State. “When brainstorming ... we kept coming back to the great state of Texas,” Fisher recounted to Splurge! magazine. “We had all lived there at some point and performed around the state. We also like how Texas is representative of our country roots, despite our classical voices.”
The Texas Tenors. It felt right. And it sounded good.
The group formed in 2009, the same year that millions of folks from around the world tuned in to NBC’s America’s Got Talent to see The Texas Tenors become the highest-ranking vocal group in the history of the show. Soon they were headlining top clubs and venues around the country. Then in 2010, their debut album, Country Roots: Classical Sound, shot up to No. 1 on both classical and country charts, and their rise went meteoric.
They’ve been blazing like shooting stars ever since, burning up the live circuit — 500 shows in three years to sold-out crowds across the country. That’s a lot of road time, which is why the guys enjoy getting off the tour bus and into a nice hotel room whenever possible. For this Phoenix gig, they’re holed up in a Residence Inn: “All the comforts of home this week for me and my wife [former Miss Kansas Jennifer Vannatta],” Fisher says with a smile. “Even a stove, fridge, and a dishwasher.”
It’s nice hotels and sold-out shows these days, but it took a fair amount of hitting brick walls and paying their dues to get to this place. There were years of voice lessons, one-night singing gigs at county fairs and half-empty neighborhood saloons, and day jobs in everything from minimum wage acting to construction. As late as 2009, The Texas Tenors were struggling to pay for groceries while holding on to fading hopes that they’d someday make it big in the music business.
All three Texas Tenors moved around a good deal until settling in the big city of Houston, but no matter where they were hanging their hats, they always carried with them values ingrained from their native rural heartland. Each member got his start singing in the church choir, but only Hagen knew he wanted to be a singer exclusively (opera, in fact). Collins wanted to be an actor and
a singer, and Fisher, who was raised on a cattle ranch, had no aspirations of singing for a living until he was out of high school.
Fisher met Collins in 2000 working aboard a cruise ship in the production shows. They sailed all over Europe and became the best of friends. Both continued working the cruise ship gigs, but Collins never gave up on his dream of being an actor and, via New York, ended up in L.A. trying to make it. Cruises alone weren’t managing to pay the bills for Fisher, so he and his wife, having had the first of their three children, decided to move to Kansas City, Kansas, where her folks had moved a few years earlier from their native Texas. “I started doing finishing work and setting tile for a construction company — sometimes 60, 70 long, hard hours a week,” Fisher says, now able to look back with an appreciation for the hard work.
Hagen, meanwhile, had migrated to New York, where he was training to sing opera and classical music and working a variety of jobs. As fate would have it, in 2004, during the crazy housing boom, some friends invited him to get into real estate sales in Kansas City. And as fate would also have it, he went to work for the same company Fisher was doing home construction for. Music made the bridge for their instant friendship.
When the housing market crashed, Hagen lost three houses and most of his money. He had already decided to get out of real estate when Fisher, impressed with Hagen’s singing voice, floated the trio idea. Thinking Collins would be the perfect complement to their voices, Fisher reached out to him in L.A., even though he figured Collins was way too busy with his acting career. “Yeah, I was really busy, but I was also really starving,” Collins says, laughing now at the struggle. “It was all low-paying extra work.”
Rehearsing together helped gel their three voices and they sent an audition tape to America’s Got Talent.
Before long, they found themselves in front of thousands of people singing on the AGT stage in Houston. “We took our marks onstage and sang and it was almost like a dream,” Hagen told AtlanticCityInsiders.com. “There was this wall of sound coming from the audience ... and it was just overwhelming.”
There have been walls of sound coming ever since. Tonight in Phoenix is no exception. The most moving wave of applause might be after a heartfelt rendition of “God Bless the USA,” during which the audience sings along — everyone, onstage and off, with hands and hats over their hearts. It’s a heartfelt tribute that fans never fail to respond to.
As they do during almost every concert, the guys give a shout-out to the troops, veterans, spouses, parents, and widows. It’s personal for them. The Texas Tenors have all been touched by the armed services: Collins’ grandfather served and came home wounded; Hagen’s father also served. “We are overwhelmed with emotion at each and every concert when the majority of our audience stands to be honored,” Hagen says. “We hear stories from veterans, spouses, and widows every night during our CD signings that touch our hearts.”
And they do something meaningful with the emotion. After The Texas Tenors were introduced in Houston to a nonprofit called Homes for Our Troops, they got involved by going to events, taking up collections, and getting the message out at their concerts and in social media. “There are so many wounded veterans coming home and they need so much,” Collins says. Homes for Our Troops does everything from building an entire house for a veteran to building ramps for wounded soldiers who can’t get up the stairs to get into their homes. The guys are also involved with the Joe Foss Institute, which seeks to teach cowboy code-like guiding values of freedom, patriotism, integrity, service, and character to young students.
Moving from the patriotic anthem back to their country roots, The Texas Tenors launch into the evening’s encore, a moving version of “Shenandoah.” As the song floats from the spotlight into the darkened arena, the message of the music that brought these guys together sinks in: You should dream, indeed.
The Texas Tenors play year-round across the country and tour extensively during the holiday season. In Texas, you can see them in an intimate atmosphere at the Palace Theatre in festive Grapevine, the Christmas Capital of Texas, December 18 – 22 (www.grapevinetexasusa.com). Catch them in Branson, Missouri, at The Starlite Theatre, where they were named 2011 and 2012 Critic’s Choice Group of the Year and Ensemble of the Year, and where they will be playing select dates through 2017 (www.starlitetheatre.com). For additional concert dates, visit www.thetexastenors.com.