By Steve Stolder / Starbucks Newsroom
Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series catching up with notable people who’ve been in the spotlight.
Any fan of “The Voice” knows that the reality TV singing competition thrives on humanizing its contestants, bringing their stories to life in video footage alongside their vocal performances. And so it was that former Starbucks barista Delvin Choice, one of 12 finalists in the 2014 season, was captured crooning “I have a Grande Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino” to the delight of store customers.
The Greenville, S.C., native competed two years in a row on the popular reality show, though he didn’t make it past the audition phase on his first try. His second time around, he wowed celebrity coaches Adam Levine, Shakira, Usher and Blake Shelton and charmed viewers, thanks to his rich voice, ease in front of the camera and flamboyant hairstyle.
True confession: Choice admits that he actually wasn’t in the habit of belting out drink orders on the job. But he did dazzle customers by casually singing along to tracks on the Starbucks overhead playlist at an Andersonville, S.C., Starbucks, where he was one of the original partners when the store opened in May 2012.
“Making people feel good – that’s what I was about at that time,” said Choice from his parents’ home in Simpsonville, S.C. “You’d wake up in the morning and you’re tired, I’d make sure I’d help you out and make your favorite drink. By the time you’d leave my register or drive-thru, you’d have a smile on your face and you’d come back the next day and we’d do it again.”
A voice in the community
Choice, 28, has since left Starbucks to concentrate on his career as a performer. He’s spent two years touring the world as backup vocalist for R&B star Musiq Soulchild and is currently working on a debut album of original songs that “not only make you feel good, but speak to your conscience and your heart.” He expects to self-release a single later this year. Classically trained, Choice has also acted in musical theater productions.
His time on “The Voice” conveyed local celebrity status, which Choice has channeled into volunteer work at McKissick Elementary School in Easley, S.C., a Title 1 school where up to 90 percent of the student body receives free- or reduced-lunch due to financial need.
“All of our kids watched that television show and knew about him because he was a local star,” said McKissick principal Gary Mohr. “We invited him out and he came to talk to our kids about positivity and setting goals and doing what you can to try to reach those goals.”
Choice visits the school three or four times a year. Last holiday season, he challenged students to donate gifts for other children and promised a pizza party as a reward for their contributions. “[The students] love having him come back,” Mohr said. “He’ll sing and talk to them individually.”
Choice’s latest areas of focus involve jewelry and food. The former barista has taken up jewelry-making, incorporating semiprecious and precious stones into his designs. Musiq Soulchild is a big booster, purchasing Choice’s creations and championing his work to other performers. Next up are plans for a food truck in Greenville that serves the kind of Lowcountry cuisine — think Creole with an African accent — he’s grown up with. Choice traces his family roots to St. Helena Island in the Lowcountry, a South Carolina coastal region known for its Gullah culture. The Gullah are descendants of slaves who’ve maintained a strong connection to their African roots.
A sweet spirit
“I have a strong passion for everything I do,” he said. “If you have a piece of my jewelry, you’ll be able to feel my heart whenever you wear it. Or if you eat some of my food, you’ll be able to feel good. Whenever you hear me sing, you’ll be able to feel that. Everything I do I want to make sure there’s a sweet spirit that’s connected to it.”
Choice credits his parents – the Reverend Willie Choice and Minister Hennie Choice – with creating a support system that’s nurtured his creativity and helped him get though tough times, including a DUI arrest shortly after he found fame on “The Voice.”
Choice now lives 40 minutes from his old Starbucks in Andersonville, so he’s no longer able to drop in frequently. He remains a Starbucks regular, however, and says he hasn’t forgotten how to craft coffee.
“Anytime Starbucks wants to have me,” he said, “I’ll drop in and make a caramel macchiato.”