DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — A contestant on NBC’s ‘The Voice’ is putting Dayton on the map while also shining a light on foster care and adoption.
With his rich country tone, 21-year-old Jackson Snelling blew everyone away in his blind audition singing “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” earning chair turns from coaches Gwen Stefani and Reba McEntire.
“I mean I still can’t believe it myself. It’s crazy!” exclaims Jackson.
“Whenever I got into the song after Miss Gwen turned, that high note that Miss Reba turned for me on, I had my eyes closed for. So, I did not hear or see her turn at all. So, when I opened my eyes back up, she was there and I was like ‘oh my gosh!’ I mean, I’ve idolized Miss Reba since I was a kid. I love all of her music. I know her story. I know almost everything about her. I love her so much. And when she turned for me, I almost lost it I could’ve fainted right there on stage.”
His mom and brother watched from the side of the stage to cheer him on.
“Hardly ever do I see my mama cry. And seeing her cry and seeing my brother so excited for me, they are my entire world,” says Jackson. “Without my mom, I wouldn’t even be doing music like how I am right now.”
Even more impressive than his talent and voice are the challenges he’s overcome. Jackson’s journey started in Dayton when he and his brother were put in foster care.
Jennifer Stokes, now department manager with Montgomery County Children Services, was one of his caseworkers.
“I was involved in his case back when he was a toddler. Just a little guy when I was an adoption worker for Children Services,” recalls Jennifer. “The kids that come over to adoptions are ones where we are looking for and searching for a forever family for them.”
At a very young age, Jackson and his brother were two of the lucky ones, finding their match and forever family.
“My mom and my dad were obviously my heroes growing up. They adopted me and my brother knowing we were on the spectrum, knowing the challenges they would have to deal with and they did it anyways,” says Jackson.
It was that loving family that helped grow his music career. Even after his dad died when Jackson was only 7, Jackson used music to cope and honor him.
“I picked that song so I could feel closer to my dad on that stage,” Jackson describes of his song choice.
“If there was a bigger Reba fan in the world than me, it would be my dad. My dad and my mom were huge Reba fans, had all of her cassettes, records. And I just really wanted and wished that my dad could’ve been there for that awesome moment in my life. So, I thought the next best thing is I could feel him there by putting all of my emotions about him into this song. So, I felt like he was with me on that stage when I was performing.”
This isn’t Jackson’s first time in the national spotlight. He was also on American Idol. Jackson has used his musical platform as inspiration for others.
“I’m looking forward to sharing my message with people that autism is a disability but you shouldn’t let it disable you from going after your dreams,” states Jackson.
Jackson says his most memorable performance was at the Boys and Girls Haven in Kentucky.
“Coming from an adoption background, they reached out to me after my exposure on Idol and asked me to come perform there for their kids to give them hope and everything. And meeting those kids hands-on and talking to them and getting to perform for them was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had,” says Jackson.
“I think it’s incredible — a kid that’s been through a lot of what he’s been through,” says Jennifer.
Just as Jennifer supported him during his adoption, she and everyone else at Children Services will be rooting for him once again.
“I’m super excited to see where this takes him because I know he’s been working hard at it,” says Jennifer.
‘The Voice’ airs Monday and Tuesday on NBC.
Montgomery County Children Services says they always need foster and adoptive families. Those interested can attend a meeting on October 10 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Haines Children’s Center located at 3304 N. Main St.