A crowd of several thousand of his newest fans roared with excitement as Jordan Baird was called to the stage.

Photo by Stephen Kline

It was early August and Baird had just been announced the winning contestant on the Baltimore show of “The Next”. He glowed with excitement as he paced across the stage to thank his mentor, Joe Jonas, and acknowledged the crowd for allowing him to move forward in the competition.

The moment was surreal.

“I was pumped,” Baird said. “The whole place was going crazy. But then I got backstage and they told me they were not actually disclosing the winner.”

Not knowing his standing within the competition, Baird was forced to watch the show on television to find out if he would be advancing.

As senior co-pastors of The Life Church in Manassas, Baird’s parents hosted a viewing party at the church where many members of the community gathered, awaiting the results. For a second time on the show, Baird sat with his family and anxiously anticipated the announcement.

Finally, after enduring the hour-long show, Baird heard the news he had been waiting for: he would be moving on to compete in the semifinals at Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles.

“The place went crazy. It was berserk,” Baird said. “It was really cool to be there and to be able to share that with everybody.”

Nearly a month before the winning announcement, Baird was taken by surprise when Jonas arrived in Manassas. While teaching a music class for children at the church, Jonas unexpectedly walked through the door – met by a chorus of screaming teenagers – and revealed that he would be mentoring Baird throughout the duration of the show.

“When he walked in, I was pumped,” Baird said. “I really thought we would be the best fit for each other.”

Baird and Jonas were a perfect fit for one another because they share a similar life story.

Both men grew up singing in the church where their fathers served as pastors. They are the middle of three brothers and both played high school sports, honing a competitive spirit that has translated into the music industry.

“He really brought a lot of his experience,” Baird said. “He is the man when it comes to performing and singing on stage – and singing to the ladies.”

Jonas spent nearly 72 hours in Gainesville, Baird’s hometown, and immersed himself into his mentee’s lifestyle. In between song preparation, Baird and Jonas found time to attend church, play table tennis and hit the gym for a game of basketball.

“He really helped me with my stage presence and filling up the room,” Baird said. “It’s a different world once you get here and his experience really benefits me throughout the show.”

Performing on a national stage, however, is nothing new for Baird.

Aside from singing the National Anthem in front of 9,800 fans before last year’s homecoming game, Baird made the top-40 in the 2009 season of “American Idol”. In the summer of 2011, he was eliminated from the X-Factor after just one performance.

“I have done [American] Idol and I have done X-Factor, and I got cut from those,” Baird said. “But this is the biggest platform I have ever had. Win or lose, I still have millions of people who have seen me sing. I will still have this huge momentum, this huge following. It’s a great opportunity.”

Even despite his previous success, Baird and his father give a lot of credit to the experience and education he has received as a music major at Mason.

“Before [Mason], he was not ready for this stage,” Baird’s father said. “Even though the music is very different in style, his performing at [Mason], his teachers, his choir directors had to be in place. They have played an incredible role, whether they are aware of that or not.”

Much unlike any other music competition on television, “The Next” is what Baird describes as a “quick-hitter.” It gives contestants an opportunity to perform on live television at least three times, with the live-show portion of the competition beginning and ending within one week.

“You’ve got to bring it and you’ve got to be ready to put it all out there when you get the chance,” Baird said. “That’s just the nature of the show.”

Instead of discovering new, unpolished talent, “The Next” found their niche in finding local heroes with a huge following of regional fans – proven artists on the brink of success.

“[The Next] set me up to do well,” Baird said. “Giving me Joe was a huge plus for me because his music targets the same demographic as I would probably target with mine.”

With the competition narrowed to just seven contestants, Baird will begin his quest for the grand prize, a $1.5 million recording contract and an opening act in his mentor’s tour, at 9 p.m. on Sept. 27.

“I’m going in to this thinking I’m going to win,” Baird said. “That’s the approach I take; that’s the approach I always take. I’m a competitive person. But winning doesn’t just mean taking the whole thing. Winning can come in a couple different forms.”

With the show’s non-elimination form, Baird will perform again at 9 p.m. on Oct. 2 before the two-hour finale at 8 p.m. on Oct. 4.

“Jordan is a special kid,” Baird’s father said. “I think this is his time, whatever that means. He is doing what he’s supposed to be doing and having a blast doing it. He was made for this moment.”