Although Cole Norton is a student-athlete at Oklahoma State, he found a different calling outside sports.
Norton, a junior on the Cowboy track and field team, has competed in the 60-meter, 100-meter and 200-meter dash. He's also a member of Pi Kappa Alpha and occasionally plays the piano and sings downstairs in the lobby of OSU’s PIKE house.
But Norton’s connection to music involves more than the occasional performance in his fraternity residence.
Norton received a call from NBC’s “The Voice” on Feb. 17.
Despite Norton’s willingness to audition for a panel of judges, when he was younger, he was the complete opposite.
“(He would) play and sing by himself, but as soon as someone poked their head into their room, he would stop,” Lynne Donovan, Norton’s mother, said.
Norton, from Picton, Ontario, Canada, started singing at a young age and realized he was good at a school talent show, and Donovan first noticed when he was practicing for a school play. He landed the lead role in that play, and the first day he practiced, his mom was shocked.
“When he opened his mouth and started to sing, I was almost in tears,” Donovan said.
His voice had not yet changed, and he was participating in competitions with kids who were five years older than him. Norton began to take lessons with a mentor who continued to make music fun for him by letting him sing what he wanted. Norton improved by the week, and it was only a matter of time before he got to show the world what he could do.
He finally got his chance when he opened at Tumbleweed on Oct. 11, the night many people at OSU expected Post Malone to perform. Norton’s small music career grew at a fast rate, while he also ran track and competed against some of the top athletes in the country.
Norton knew he had to learn to write his own songs if he wanted to make a career out of music, and one night, he sat down at the piano and started to play and sing a little. In the middle of practicing, he said he realized his music sounded good and wanted to see if he could make a song out of it.
That night led to Norton’s first song, “Wrote a Song About You,” which is on Apple Music and Spotify.
Norton continued to write music and run, balancing those activities with classes at OSU. For many students, college is about impulse decisions and what they do with the opportunities they have in front of them. Norton made the most of his when the chance to try out for “The Voice” arrived.
Norton flew to Houston and was in a stadium where only 100 of about 5,000 people got call backs and a chance to make the show. With so many people, there wasn't enough time for the producers to listen to the entirety of everyone’s auditions.
“The producer clapped when he was done with (most contestants), but he did something different for me,” Norton said. “I performed ‘Mercy’ by Shawn Mendes, and the producer asked if I had anything else to sing.”
Norton then performed a self-written song called “Perfect” and impressed the producer, as he received a call back Feb. 17.
Although Norton described his feelings performing for “The Voice” as the same nervousness he used to get before track meets, music is a different stage for him, and he's still learning how to compete in a new atmosphere.
The producer then asked Norton to come back to a different location where he performed in front of a couple more people. Norton again sang “Mercy,” and after the call back, there was no second chance for him.
He didn’t land a spot on “The Voice,” but this opened the door for many other musical opportunities.
While Norton was in Houston for “The Voice” tryouts, he recorded a five-song EP that will be released soon, and he finished the demo for the EP on Feb. 25.
Norton suffered an injury about two months ago and hasn't competeted with OSU since, though he's still a member of the team. At this stage in his career as a runner, Norton described himself as a “mediocre athlete” and said he believes his music career has more potential.
From the track to the stage, Norton has grown throughout his time at OSU and is making himself and his mom proud.
“(I have) the deepest of respect for the man that Cole has become, and the more I get to know him as a human being, the more respect I have for him,” Donovan said. “He’s a fine young man.”