Photo by Shannon Porter
Nicholas David Mrozinski performed at the 2012 Mid West Music Fest outside Ed's No Name Bar. Mrozinski was a frequent performer on Winona stages before making his recent run at rock stardom on "The Voice." More photos from this set can be found at www.portergraph.com.
His soaring voice has captivated audiences around the country, and his haunting renditions of music's most beloved songs become soulful, often breathtaking, ballads. Nicholas David Mrozinski, the Eagan native known as Nick The Feelin' to friends and family, has been lighting up the stage of the hit Hollywood show "The Voice" since the very first blind audition in September. Now, as he prepares to fight Monday for the coveted glory of being the next big voice, close friends Ed Hoffman, owner of Ed's No Name Bar, and Jamie Harperóboth Winonansódivulge that before Mrozinski hit it big in tinseltown, he was a well-known performer on Winona stages.
The earth-tone fedoras, three-piece suits, Ray Ban eyewear, eccentric jewelry, and, of course, that beard, set Mrozinski apart from the more traditional contestants, but what puts him a cut above the rest is the zoetic sound that fills a room each time he sings.
"Nick is a true soul singer and he plays from his heart," Hoffman said. The two met five years ago through a mutual friend in the local music industry, and after hearing Mrozinski's voice, Hoffman said he was hooked. "I was really blown away by him from the very start and I knew that he had a special talent."
Around the same time, Harper remembered meeting the Twin Cities artist and says in an instant a strong musical connection was formed. Hoffman then invited Mrozinski to his Third Street watering hole to play a gig. Soon one show became two, which turned into five, and as Hoffman reminisced about his friend's time in Winona, he says he quickly lost track of how many times he has played for rivertown residents.
"He loves it here in Winona and he's told me many times that there are a lot of good people here that get his music," Hoffman said. As their friendship grew, they both realized they not only had similar interests in art and music, but they shared a kindred spirit. "We both had a Catholic upbringing and he shared his spiritual side with me. I've never had a bad conversation with him."
A steady following packed the bar each time Mrozinski made an appearance, and soon he made Ed's No Name a sort of home away from home. He received rave reviews for his performances at the annual Mid West Music Fest, Boats and Bluegrass, and Frozen River Film festivals, and was welcomed with open, embracing arms each time he took the stage. The release of his 2008 album titled "The Sacred Play of Life" put Mrozinski and his band The Feelin' on the local music scene map and solidified his place in Winona folk history.
Taking it to the next level
A former stay-at-home father of two, with one on the way, Mrozinski is a devoted family man turned overnight music sensation. After the release of three more albums, including a plug on the Minnesota Beatles Project debut record, Nick The Feelin' was on a steady climb up the alternative soul ladder. A nod in June 2009 from Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine as the Take Note Artist of the Month only added to his hard-earned success.
After careful thought and consideration, Mrozinski decided to take the leap, and traveled more than 400 miles to the Windy City for his first audition with "The Voice." For many friends and family members, The Feelin' frontman's decision to shift from independent rocker to the bright lights of L.A. was, needless to say, a surprise. Both Hoffman and Harper said Mrozinski didn't personally tell them he was auditioning for the show, but said a buzz quickly spread once it was leaked.
"I knew he was kind of trying to keep this mum for a while, but when I found out I was excited for him," Hoffman said. The two spoke while Mrozinski had some down time between the pre-recorded shows and the live performances, and Hoffman said he had a hunch his friend would go far. "He has that genuine character that people like and his music makes you feel good; it's funky, jazzy, soulful. It makes you feel something. He sort of plays by his name."
It took a six-week process in the summer to finally get him on the stage in front of judges pop diva Christina Aguilera, Maroon Five singer Adam Levine, country superstar Blake Shelton, and rapper Cee Lo Green. Since singing John Lennon's version of "Stand By Me" (written by Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller and originally performed by King) in his first blind audition, Mrozinski has been an early contender to win it all.
"Watching him has been amazing, and through all this he seems to be the same Nick," Harper said. "Very mellow, even in the circumstances. And his voice sounds the same as it would if he was here in Winona."
Nick and his coach, Cee Lo Green, Harper said, are a "perfect match." Even though the dynamic between the two opposing musical genres may seem strange, the creative duo has given new meaning to popular tunes such as "She's Gone" by Hall and Oates, "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye, and, most recently, "You Are So Beautiful." The stunning rendition of the tune made famous by Joe Cocker brought tears to the eyes of Mrozinski's fiancee, Krista Balaski, who was clearly gushing in the front row.
It was that final hanging note last week that sent Mrozinski to the top three, just one show away from the big prize and the next Voice. Hoffman and Harper said they weren't surprised that their friend made it that far.
"We've all been watching him go through this process and for the people that really know him, it just makes us all very happy," Hoffman said. "He is a good person with true talent. It's refreshing to see someone outside of the pop world break that mold. Nick has been playing music for a long time now and I know all the people that have worked with him professionally, and all the friends, family, and fans, are really rooting for him."
Mrozinski will perform live one final time on Monday evening along with the two other contestantsóTerry McDermott and Cassadee Pope, both on Team Blake. The live, star-studded season three finale will be Tuesday night. Until then, Minnesota waits with bated breath in hopes that an Eagan native with pipes that even church choir singers envy will walk away victorious as not only a hometown hero, but also a hero in the hearts of music fans across the country.