MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota's latest contestant on NBC's The Voice, Esera Tuaolo, is a familiar face to football fans and those involved in the LGBTQ rights movement.
Now he's hoping to go pro at what he loves the most: music.
Tuaolo made it through his blind audition on the popular talent search show with flying colors Monday night, singing his rendition of Andra Day's "Rise Up," and then selected country star Blake Shelton as his coach.
"I was known as Mr. Aloha because I sang a lot in the locker room," Tuaolo told NBC's Carson Daly in an interview that ran before the audition. "I had to put singing on the back burner because of the football."
And while most viewers were meeting Tuaolo for the first time, Minnesotans know him as a musically inclined defensive lineman for the Vikings in the 1990s; and his activism for Rainbow Families and other LGBTQ organizations in the 2000s.
The Samoan American grew up poor in Hawaii in a large family of banana farm workers, and excelled in football. He played at Oregon State where he was a finalist for the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy.
Tuaolo spent nine seasons in the NFL as a nose tackle, including five seasons with the Vikings. And while his first love was singing, his work on the gridiron paid the bills.
He got to combine both passions occasionally, singing the national anthem at games before heading out onto the field. And during his time with the Vikings, Tuaolo would sing on the Denny Green Show at times.
In 2002, three years after he retired from the NFL, Tuaolo came out and later penned the book "Alone in the Trenches: My life as a gay man in the NFL."
And he became involved in supporting other gay athletes and fellow gay parents, putting himself back in the spotlight at a time conservative state lawmakers were pressing legislation to bar domestic benefits for same-sex couples.
"When I said I was gay, it was like this huge mountain just crumbled," Tuaolo told Daly on The Voice.
In the early 2000s there were efforts at the Minnesota State Capitol to remove the word "sexual orientation" from the state's anti-discrimination laws. In 2005 and 2006 then-State Senator Michele Bachmann led the charge to enact a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.
"Don't quote me Leviticus if you don't read the whole book of Leviticus," Tuaolo told legislators during a hearing on Bachmann's bill.
"Don't quote me the Bible if you do not read the New Testament!"
He remains committed to the cause of equity, and has received awards for his work in that arena.
Now, as a contestant on The Voice, Tuaolo is chasing his first passion again. And he has a new head coach.
"I got this opportunity from the voice to come back and live this dream, and to have my kids with me, I intend to win this."
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