Julio Cesar Castillo, 21, has been singing mariachi his entire life, so it only made sense for him to pull those roots when he auditioned ofor NBC's "The Voice." In doing so, he became the first performer ever to sing entirely in Spanish on the show, and earned a spot on Blake Shelton's team. We talked to him about his audition, his mariachi influences, and being from Portage Park, where he still resides. "The Voice" begins its battle rounds at 7 p.m. Oct. 8 on NBC.
Why did you choose "La Bamba," and why all in Spanish?
Well, the thing that I thought about was, I know it's not the most typical Spanish song, but it is a well-known song in the American community that, for me as a Hispanic, we kind of relate to really. So it kind of connected both the Hispanic and American in some way. I thought it would be a good song to get both sides.
You've been a mariachi singer since you were really little. What was your preparation for "The Voice" versus any other kind of performing?
To tell you the truth, I never really have done any type of preparation. It's just something that I've always liked doing. So whether it's mariachi, or some other place, or some other type of music--obviously I rehearse a lot to get the song--but then I just go out and I perform it. There's not really any special type of preparation that I do before a performance or anything.
What was it like up on the stage for your blind audition?
The actual performance, I was nervous up to the point I got on stage, and then ... I heard the music and, I don't know, I kind of snapped out of the nervousness then. It was like, "It's now or never, so I've just got to give it my all."
What made you choose Blake Shelton as your coach?
It was a gut feeling. When I first found out I was going to do the blind audition, I was really going towards Adam [Levine]. I was hoping for Adam, but he didn't turn around. So I had to choose between Cee-Lo [Green] and Blake, and I just thought Blake would be a better coach for me.
Tell us a little bit about being from Chicago and your background.
Sure. I was born in Chicago back in 1991 and I started singing at about 3 years old. When I was young, I was kind of going to festivals and all different places. Then I hit puberty, and my voice started changing, and I kind of stopped singing for awhile. But then I got together with my mariachi and we just kind of thought maybe we could start doing this as a business, go to parties and perform and everything. It's been going really well ever since.
We've been doing this since we were really young. We get along very well so it's not just about work but it came to the point where we're practically family. I think in my opinion family is the most important thing. So my family was going through like a mini financial crisis, so I thought maybe I can do this as my job. So at about 13 years old, I was out there busting myself to make enough money for us to have food and pay rent and everything. So it's been a little rough I guess, but at the same time it's a really wonderful experience.
Do you have any favorite spots, restaurants or places to hang out?
Restaurants? I actually have a lot of favorite restaurants. I love to eat. The majority of places I eat just depends on what I'm in the mood for. If I'm in the mood for Mexican food, I'll go all the way to the South Side just to get Mexican food. If I want Italian food, I'll head to one of the Italian spots downtown or something. I do think one of my favorite spots is ... El Veneno, and it's like seafood. And it's just, oh, it's so good.
Who are some of your favorite musical influences?
Vicente Fernandez, you know, he's been a person I looked up to ever since I was young. He's very well-known in the mariachi genre. I just always had a likeness for him since I was young. Now I still look up to him but I'm trying to move a little away from the mariachi because I want to try something different. I've been influence by Juanes. He's very well known as well.
What has it been like working with Blake since the audition?
Blake is awesome. He's actually a really good guy. He's cool. He's funny, and he's a really good coach. He tells it exactly how it is, and if there's something wrong, he'll tell you. He's really straightforward, and I think that's a really good quality that he has as a coach and as a mentor. It's just one of those things that a coach should have.
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