The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Ask the Artist | Eli Ward from ‘The Voice’

From the track to the stage, the former UI runner recently competed on season 24 of NBC’s “The Voice.”
Photo+by+Greg+Gayne%2FNBC%2C+contributed+by+Eli+Ward
Greg Gayne/NBC
Photo by Greg Gayne/NBC, contributed by Eli Ward

At just 21 years old, the former University of Iowa long-distance runner Eli Ward has accomplished more than many of his college-aged peers.

Hailing from Waterloo, Illinois, Ward competed on season 24 of NBC’s hit singing competition show The Voice this spring, bringing a heartfelt rendition of Lewis Capaldi’s “Bruises” to the blind auditions

Though Ward was voted off the competition after the second round, he has garnered positive reactions from both the star-studded cast of coaches — Gwen Stefani, Reba McEntire, John Legend and Niall Horan — and the show’s more than 6 million average weekly viewers. 

Ward, who dedicated what would have been his final year of undergrad at the UI to competing on the Emmy-award-winning series, is working on his first EP.

The Daily Iowan: As a former long-distance runner at the UI, how did you balance running with your other passions, like music?

Eli Ward: I think the word balance is made up. I’m convinced. I mean, I’m just kidding, but I never got enough sleep and that’s how I got through it. [To get] as much of a balance as I could, I had to prioritize things and use my time wisely. Running, especially at a Big Ten level, the work is daily, day in and day out. You have to set aside time to get to practice, leave from practice, lift weights, and account for nutrition and for sleep. It was a lot of hours each week. It’s really fun. I mean, I made some incredible friends — I loved everything about the whole experience. However, I decided to not continue running this year because I was in Burbank for “The Voice” when the school semester started and there was no way I could run like 80 miles a week on top of filming. I thought, “You know what? Probably time to stop this one.”

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Is the way you mentally prepare for a race different from how you prepare for a live performance?

I have performed a lot of times, and I wasn’t nervous beforehand, but I would always get nervous before running. However, before the blind audition and while I was waiting to perform, all I wanted to do was to start running.

What inspired you to audition for The Voice amid your athletic career?

I think music was always kind of in the back of my mind. Running is awesome. I love to run, but it wasn’t getting me where I wanted to be tomorrow. This whole “Voice” thing popped out of nowhere. I auditioned as a joke with one of my friends because she wanted me to play guitar for hers. I was like, I’m not going to audition for “The Voice,” I’m not ever going to make that. And then, I landed in Burbank.

How did you feel when you learned that you were going to Burbank, Calif., for the blind audition in front of music icons like Stefani and Legend?

It was the craziest thing ever. Even through all the callbacks, I would get another email that said “Hey, you’ve made it again,” and I was like, “Okay, sure.” I never really believed it. I still don’t think I’ve even processed it. Hanging out with Gwen Stefani? That doesn’t feel real.

Stefani and McEntire turned for you during your audition. Why did you ultimately choose Stefani as your coach over McEntire?

My blind audition was on the last day of auditions — when I performed, there were very few spots left on each team: I think there was one on Reba McEntire’s, one left on Niall Horan’s, one left on John Legend’s, and three left on Gwen Stefani’s. At this point in the taping, though, I spent at least a month getting to know each contestant and getting to know which ones I could not beat in a battle. So, I was making my choice between Reba McEntire and Gwen Stefani from a logical standpoint — I stood out more a lot on Gwen’s team; she had 10 girls and four guys, whereas Reba had a lot of talented country cowboys and there was just no way I was going to be a cowboy in a country song. So, I’d like to say that I went for Gwen solely for the logic, but really, all I could think of when I was on stage was, “Do I want a hoodie, or do I want tater tots?”

Hoodies and tater tots?

Gwen’s coach gift was a hoodie and Reba’s coach gift was tater tots.

Did you end up getting tater tots anyway?

No, I didn’t, actually, but you could smell them from the stage. Apparently, they were really good; I have a lot of friends on Team Reba who told me so. But, while tater tots are great — don’t get me wrong — I wanted something that could last.

How do you envision your music career unfolding over the next few years?

From “The Voice,” I have a lot of connections in Nashville, Tennessee, and I would like to explore that down the road. I’ve got a lot of stuff coming up, but I don’t have anything on the calendar for Iowa City, so that’s next on the docket because I think it’d be fun to play here. While I’m not currently enrolled in school, it would be silly not to finish my degree, so I plan to do that by either re-enrolling in the UI this spring or by moving to Nashville and finishing online.

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About the Contributor
Avi Lapchick, Arts Editor
(she/her/hers)
Avi Lapchick is an arts editor at The Daily Iowan. A fourth-year student studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, she previously held the positions of staff photojournalist, summer arts editor, and assistant arts editor at the DI. She is happiest when she is writing or painting.