Former Minnesota Vikings player Esera Tuaolo is full of surprises. On Monday night, the 300-pound retired defensive tackle traded knocking over football opponents for stunning the judges during the season premiere of NBC's "The Voice."
Wearing an NFC championship ring from his days with the Atlanta Falcons, Tuaolo won over the judges with his blind audition of Andra Day's "Rise Up."
“That is one of my favorite songs, which is part of why it caught my attention,” said judge Jennifer Hudson, who turned her chair first. Tuaolo went with Blake Shelton, who later tweeted about Tuaolo:
Tuaolo was born in Hawaii to a family of banana farmers. After playing football in college at Oregon State University, he went on to play on teams including the Green Bay Packers, then the Vikings between 1992 and 1996.
Tuaolo, who still lives in Minneapolis, is no stranger to singing for an audience. While with the Packers, for example, Tuaolo once sang the national anthem in full pads before a game against the Chicago Bears.
Tuaolo's voice has never been a secret, but his sexual orientation was. It wasn't until the 49-year-old left the NFL that he revealed he was gay. He revealed on Monday night’s show what it was like to finally come out.
“When I finished in the NFL, I came out to my family. When I said those words for the first [time], when I said that I was gay, it was like this huge mountain just crumbled,” Tuaolo said.
Since then, Tuaolo has been an advocate for the LGBT community, including working with the NFL to combat homophobia and serving on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Athletics Foundation. In 2006, he released his book, "Alone in the Trenches: My Life As a Gay Man in the NFL."
As Tuaolo exited the stage, he said: "That was better than the Super Bowl!"