'This surely is a dream:' Drew Cole shines on ‘The Voice’

Drew Arcoleo is living out his dreams one song at a time.

The Ridgefield native, who performs under the stage name Drew Cole, advanced on NBC’s The Voice Monday night after his rendition of Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy” earned a strong round of applause from the vocal competition’s quartet of coaches.

“It’s intimidating being on that set because it’s so quiet,” Cole recalled about being backstage before his “blind” audition in front of Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Alicia Keys, and Kelly Clarkson.

“You can hear a pin drop, and you have much more time to think than you would before a normal gig,” he added. “You’re just back there with your adrenaline going and then your nerves begin kicking in, and you just have to find a place of zen and conquer them — you can’t let them take over you.”

Cole’s “fight-or-flight” moment on stage didn’t last long.

After Cole sang the first line — “I smell sex and candy here,” Levine tapped his button and his chair swiveled around.

“All you need is one chair to turn around to be on the show, it could come at the last moment,” Cole said. “I think all I did was sing that first line and play three notes, and he was in.

“It felt like an instant weight was lifted off of me,” he added. “It was an amazing feeling knowing that this was really going to happen; it was crazy and surreal.”

When Shelton hit his button and showed his face to the young singer-songwriter, it was icing on the cake.

“Anything after that first chair is just a bonus, but it was cool going from seeing the backs of the chairs to seeing their faces all of a sudden,” Cole said. “You’ve gotta keep your cool, though.”

Battle cry

Cole’s musical foundation can be traced back to his father, Chris, who used to play guitar around the house as a hobby.

Cole picked up the instrument when he was in sixth grade and played it until he graduated from Ridgefield High School in 2010.

Along the way, he claimed three Battle of the Band championship trophies at RHS with his band Insinu and played at the Ridgefield Playhouse’s Band Jam, performing alongside with his best friend, Richie Hume.

“I was not a vocalist,” Cole said, “so I let Richie take the mic.”

The band did a lot of grunge rock covers — Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots — and Cole remembers trying to imitate Alice’s lead singer, Layne Staley.

“I’ve come a long way since then,” he said with a laugh Tuesday, Feb. 27. “I was the guitarist in our band, but as I sung back-up vocals, I became more confident. …

“We were just aspiring rockers back then,” he added. “I didn’t see music as a career, honestly.”

With a little from my …

The viral video “Golden Loves Guitar,” which has garnered almost 14 million views (and counting after its national exposure on The Voice Monday night), altered Cole’s life trajectory.

He was an economics major at UConn home on winter break when he recorded the clip of him playing the guitar and singing to Hume's golden retriever and uploaded it to YouTube.

What was the inspiration behind the sensation?

“It was not a planned event — trust me,” Cole said. “I had not thought of it beforehand at all. I was just sharing an intimate moment with my dog, and his response to me playing the music was almost human-like.”

The split-second decision to capture the dog’s reaction on video triggered a West Coast journey — one that he hasn’t stopped living since.

“It took off like wildfire,” said Cole, who now lives in Los Angeles. “That video really catapulted me; it’s what prompted me to move to LA.”

Against the odds

“Golden Loves Guitar” drew the attention of a Los Angeles music producer who invited Cole out to the City of Angels to write songs and play in clubs.

“That first visit in 2012 really inspired,” he said. “It lit the fire for my relocation.”

But back home, an education waited for him.

“I had ‘the talk’ with my dad about giving it a go,” he said. “I really wanted to chase a career in music but I knew the odds were against me.”

In an attempt to find a middle ground between passion and school, Cole applied and got in to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

But something didn’t feel right about that change.

“My heart was in LA at that point,” he said. “I knew if I didn’t pursue this dream of mine, I would have a huge regret inside me for the rest of my life.”

Ultimately, he finished his degree at UConn and set his compass west.

“I’ve been out here for a little more than three and a half years pounding the pavement — co-writing songs, playing gigs, trying to find my mojo. …

“I was just waiting for everything to click.”

Third time’s the charm

Cole had previously auditioned twice to get on The Voice — once in New York, and then again in West Hollywood when he first moved out West.

The rejection process taught him a valuable lesson, one he won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

“I knew I had to live in LA to make this happen, but what the city makes you realize — and why it inspires me every single day — is that you have to work harder than everyone else,” he said. “It’s a fiercely competitive place and it forces you to be your best self.”

“I needed that humbling experience — that struggle to get myself better,” he added. “It’s brought me to a good place.”  

Cole said the motivation from his past failures is what got him onto that stage Monday night.

“I worked on perfecting every lyric, every phrase,” he said. “I was practicing in my hotel, over and over again. Every moment of that song was meticulously crafted, and that’s why when I got out there I was able to let go and just bask in my nerves. …

“The lyrics of that song are so present. It ends with the line ‘This surely is a dream.’ That’s pretty much on the nose.”