His voice sounds like church. Baptist, COGIC or Pentecostal — pick one. It’s the type of voice that could save souls and make young ladies swoon.
It’s a comparison Terence Thomas doesn’t seem to mind.
He grew up singing in church with his sister. His mother is a preacher. And as a member of Sony/ATV Music Publishing’s new boy band Next Town Down, all he wants to do is bring people together.
“We want to cross age gaps, cultural gaps and just make the world happy again. There are so many terrible things going on, and we want to be that light of joy,” said Thomas, a Hollandale native.
The group’s recent YouTube video “Evolution of Boybands“ — paying tribute to The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Boyz II Men, *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys and more — went viral, generating millions of views on social media, and has been shared by celebrities.
Last month the group — Leon Outlaw Jr., 15; Malik Knighten, 18; Christopher Louis, 19; Trevon Waters, 20; and Thomas, 22 — were invited to the Musical.ly headquarters in Santa Monica.
There they had an impromptu opportunity to serenade megastar Mariah Carey. After hearing their rendition of her song “Hero,” Carey extended an offer for them to perform during one of her Las Vegas shows.
“It’s been crazy and awesome,” Thomas said by phone from North Hollywood, where he shares a townhome with his bandmates.
“I always knew at a young age I would be doing something dealing with music. So this process has been amazing. It’s humbling.”
On top of meeting the demands of recording an album and preparing for an upcoming summer tour, the Jackson State University senior has been taking online courses, with the goal of completing his criminal justice degree this fall.
As a freshman, Thomas entered a university-hosted talent competition similar to “Showtime at the Apollo.” “That was one of my first times singing in front of a really large crowd, and I won the showcase,” he said.“Having people come up to me and tell me that my voice was inspirational or that my singing really touched them was a big deal for me. Jackson State gave me that opportunity to get over my fear of singing and has pushed me to go out and pursue my career in music.”
Later he joined a gospel group started by his school peers. A road manager for Grammy-nominated gospel artist James Fortune reached out to Thomas after hearing him sing in an Instagram video. That interaction led to Thomas touring with Fortune off and on from December 2015 to August of last year.
While touring with Fortune, Thomas met Waters and Louis through social media. They quickly became fans of each other’s vocal abilities, and the seed of a band took root.
“We agreed that we needed five people to complete this group because some of the greatest groups of all time tend to consist of five people,” Thomas said.
After finding Knighten and Outlaw via online performances, the guys contacted a manager who eventually led them to a contract with Sony/ATV, and Next Town Down bloomed.
“We’re not the boys next door. We’re the cool guys from the next town down. We look better. We dress better. We sound better. Our haircuts are better.” Thomas joked.
A typical day for the group consists of choreography practice, media training and workouts with a personal trainer.
Most importantly, the guys have been in the studio with esteemed producers The Stereotypes, who crafted tracks on Bruno Mars’ hit album “24K Magic,” and Harmony Samuels, who has worked with the likes of Ariana Grande, Chris Brown and Maroon 5.
“Good Times” is the group’s first original single. It’s a fun, smooth and upbeat song that easily sends bodies swaying.“We’re trying to bring back feel-good music. Those times when you were in the ‘Soul Train’ line in a sweaty shirt. And we’re a group of real singers, no Auto-Tune or anything. We’re straight soul singers,” said Thomas, who refers to his bandmates as brothers.
Daniel Liss, one of the group’s two managers, calls his experience with Next Town Down an adventure of a lifetime.
“I admire their faith and values. They have grit and determination to entertain, of course, but also to be upstanding citizens and an inspiration to fans young and old,” Liss said.
Thomas’ mother, Nicole Thomas, recalls her young son hanging out in her beauty salon and using hair combs as drumsticks to pound out beats on buckets of hair relaxer.
“He’s always been musically inclined. He learned how to play the organ and keyboard by ear. He’s been into music ever since.”
She makes no effort to contain her enthusiasm: “I’m so excited and proud of Terence… He is a very wise young man, and I see the group jumping leaps and bounds.”
In contrast, Thomas’ aunt, Dr. Regina McMurtery, an associate professor at JSU, admits that she was initially less than thrilled with his decision.
“I wasn’t too pleased when he first informed me that he was seriously considering pursuing music as I did not know how that would interfere with his academics at JSU. However, I knew this was his dream and he was extremely talented and after much prayer and consultation with the family, I knew it was the best decision for him,” she said.
Although it appears that Thomas’ onetime plans to be an air marshal have been grounded, it is with good reason. “I think this music thing is all right with me. I’m probably going to stick with this,” he said.
After a contemplative pause, he added: “Maybe one day, after it’s all said and done, I could see myself going back to Jackson State and getting a master’s in pre-law and becoming an entertainment lawyer. But music, I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”