HOLLYWOOD - Esera Tuaolo is best known in Minnesota and Wisconsin as a big dude who spent years playing nose tackle for the Vikings and Packers in the 1990s.
On Tuesday the lineman who played for Oregon State University officially joined another team... Team Blake... as he was selected to advance on NBC's 'The Voice.'
Tuaolo, who is well-known here for his high, clear singing voice and love for performing, took his passion to a national stage, taking part in the high pressure blind auditions. The song he chose was Andra Day's "Rise Up," and the 49-year-old used his powerful upper range and loud-soft dynamics to his advantage. New Judge Jennifer Hudson was the first to turn her chair, followed by Blake Shelton after Tuaolo hit and held a long, dramatic note.
The former NFLer beamed as he finished, knowing he would be on someone's team and have a chance at The Voice championship. While Hudson and Shelton bickered good-naturedly about who Esera was singing to, judge Adam Levine apologized for not turning his chair around.
"I just want you to know I could feel your presence. I'm like, 'That's a big dude back there. He has a great voice, but he could also whip my a**,'" Levine confessed as his fellow judges and the audience laughed.
Shelton made what turned out to be a smart play, referring to Tuaolo's career as a football player. "I'm a fan of great singers, and you're one of em'. I'm such a football geek, if I was your coach I'd drive you nuts. "
When asked who he would sing for, the big Samoan hesitated before choosing Team Blake. Everyone appeared a bit surprised, from all four judges to members of the audience. Shelton jumped out of his chair and ran to Tuaolo. "We just won the championship!" the country singer shouted as he gave his new singer a big hug.
As part of the video clip introducing him to America, Tuaolo shared his story about coming out as a gay man after his NFL playing career was over. "I felt light as a feather," he recalled after telling his family that he was gay, "But when I jumped on the scale I was still this 6 foot 4, 300 pound Samoan guy that's gay and played in the NFL."
He played at Oregon State in the mid 1980s. He was a first team, All-Pacific 10 selection and won the Morris Trophy as the outstanding defensive lineman in the league, according to school files.
He was the 35th pick of the 1990 NFL draft, going to the Packers. As a rookie, he sand the national anthem in uniform on Monday Night Football and again at the 1999 Pro Bowl.