Nicholas David Mrozinski from The Voice appeared at the Mall of America and sang two songs for his fans, many from his hometown of Eagan, Mn., on Thursday
Nicholas David Mrozinski from The Voice appeared at the Mall of America and sang two songs for his fans, many from his hometown of Eagan, Mn., on Thursday December 6, 2012. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

Like many parents, Jennifer Mrozinski would always wait for her teenagers to return home after a night out. Unlike most teenage boys, when her oldest son, Nicholas, would return to their Eagan home, he would always ask her a question.

"He would say, 'Would you like me to play the piano for you before we go to bed?' " she remembers.

Her answer was always "yes." Whether he played her an original composition or her favorite, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," the evening usually ended with a song.

Now Jennifer's son Nicholas David Mrozinski, 32, is sharing his gift of music with America as a contestant on "The Voice." After making it to the final three, the St. Paul musician who grew up in Eagan and is known as Nicholas David to millions of viewers of the popular NBC-TV singing competition, will perform for votes one last time Monday night, Dec. 17 (7 p.m. KARE).

Then on Tuesday night's two-hour finale, we will find out whether Mrozinski, Cassadee Pope or Terry McDermott will be crowned the Season 3 winner and go home with the grand prize: a recording contract.

"I always thought he could do something like this," said Jennifer, who urged her son to try out for the show. "He sings from his heart. He's always been so humble and so kind. He always wanted to include people and make them feel loved. I'm so excited that the world gets to see what kind of person he is."

'THE VOICE'

Called a "soul sonic force" by his "Voice" coach Cee Lo Green, the long-haired, bearded singer with a love of vintage clothing and the saying 'holy buckets' has impressed the show's all-star panel and viewers for the past three months. With his smooth, rich, soulful voice, he's become a "Voice" favorite and an iTunes chart-topping regular. At a recent appearance at the Mall of America as part of the show's "hometown visit," hundreds of people screamed his name when he took to the stage, and afterward many begged for his autograph.

"Unfrickin' real," "pretty wild" and "amazing" are just some of the words Mrozinski uses to describe the experience.

"I've just been listening -- and following the guidance of the coaches," he said recently on the phone from Los Angeles, where the show is produced. "I'm just praying -- just praying to be a light."

From Day 1 on the show, Mrozinski made it clear: One of his goals for doing "The Voice" was to bring his message of hope and healing to a larger audience.

The first time he was introduced on the show, viewers learned of his struggles with alcohol and weight and how hard Mrozinski worked to overcome them.

For helping him through the rough times, he gives a lot of credit to his family, especially his fiancee, Krista, who is due with their third child in February. (The couple also have two young boys.)

He has repeatedly said the most challenging part of "The Voice" is being away from his loved ones. And in an emotional moment on last week's performance round, he serenaded his "gal" and kids with a lovely version of "You Are So Beautiful."

Before Mrozinski's "Voice" journey, the couple, who recently bought a house in St. Paul, were planning an October wedding. While the nuptials have been delayed, he's hoping his success on the show will eventually lead to more time with his family.

"Being away from my family is the hardest," he said. "They are my life, they are why I do this, they are what I do this for."

Before Mrozinski became a well-known name on a hit TV show, he was a regular presence in the local music scene, playing various venues with his band The Feelin'. In March, during a break in his schedule, he and his fiancee, children and father, David, drove through a snowstorm to Chicago to audition for "The Voice."

After the audition, his father said, Nicholas was bouncing around with his guitar and holding a piece of paper that said the producers were interested and would call if they wanted him on the show. That call came, and, eventually, Nicholas Mrozinski was picked to be part of the "blind auditions," which aired in September.

"As a parent, you're always interested in having your children go after their dreams," David Mrozinski said. "This has always been Nick's dream. He really wants to share what's inside of him."

THE EARLY YEARS

The tight-knit Mrozinski family discovered Nicholas' musical talent at a young age.

"We found out early on that Nick was a gifted musician like my dad," said David, whose father was an accomplished accordion player. "Nick could hear a song and then play it. He was playing by ear already in the second grade."

Mary Kay Lanz was Mrozinski's piano teacher from grade school through his years at Eagan High School. Even when Mrozinski was just a kid, she said, he wasn't afraid to be himself.

"He was brave enough to do his own thing in piano recitals and to also sing while playing," she recalled. "We had a concert in my front yard one summer with about 12 students, and he was the highlight of the show."

Lanz said she keeps a picture of him in her studio to show her students where "it all started."

"I thought he practiced sufficiently," she said. "He always had something to show me, so I didn't harp about it. When he started composing his own music, he didn't want to write it down. I thought he should write it down so he could remember what it was."

Lanz has missed a couple of Mrozinski's performances on the show because she's busy giving lessons, but she tries to shuffle her schedule around so she can watch her former student on TV. When he performed at the Mall of America a couple of weeks ago, Lanz was there.

"It's been pretty awesome," she said. "When I saw him at the Mall of America, I got the biggest bear hug I ever got from any student."

'A GENUINELY NICE GUY'

Tony Andersen never will forget the first time he heard Mrozinski sing. It was a frigid Sunday night a couple of winters ago at Palmer's Bar in Minneapolis.

"I walked in the door, and here was this shaggy, bearded guy crouched down playing his keyboards with a bass player and drummer," Andersen said. "My friend and I grabbed the first bar stools by the door, and even before Nick finished the song we walked in on, I said, 'That guy's got an amazing voice.' It was so unexpected."

Andersen, who owns the Happy Gnome in St. Paul, started going to Palmer's every Sunday night to see Mrozinski. The two struck up a friendship and discovered they lived in the same St. Paul neighborhood. They began sharing a ride to the shows.

"While we were carpooling, we really got to know each other," Andersen said. "We'd talk about girlfriends and personal stuff. I've only known him for a couple of years, but I'm really proud to call him a friend."

Andersen offered Mrozinski a gig playing Wednesday nights at the Happy Gnome. He played there weekly for more than a year and even came back a couple of times after his "blind audition" had aired on "The Voice."

Never having watched the show, Andersen said he was surprised when he found out that his buddy was going to be a part of it. The first time he saw Mrozinski on TV, he seemed out of place because Andersen was so used to seeing him in bars, not on a national stage. This was, after all, the guy Andersen had nicknamed "Professor Ragstock" because, as he puts it, "Mrozinski looks like a professor and looks like he shops at Ragstock."

Now seeing him on TV doesn't seem so strange to Andersen.

"I thinks his genuineness comes through on the show," he said. "You can see it in his expression, you can see it when he gets emotional like when he was singing to Krista. Just the way he interacts with the other people on the show. And his little bow thing (where he puts his hands together and bows his head) -- that's just so Nick. He's always so thankful. I think people see that and see he's really a genuinely nice guy."

When it came time for the hometown visits for "The Voice's" Top 4, Andersen got a phone call from Mrozinski asking whether he could perform at the Happy Gnome with the show's cameras in tow.

"I was extremely flattered," Anderson said. "He asked me if that was OK, and I said, 'Yeah, I think we can arrange that, Nick.' But that speaks to his character. He wanted to come back and pay tribute to me and my place. I'm more than grateful."

TIME TO SHARE

When Mrozinski's mom talks about her son and his "big heart," you can hear the pride in her voice. She understandably gets emotional when describing how he played the piano for his dying grandfather.

"He would be so proud of Nicholas," Jennifer Mrozinski said, holding back tears.

But she cheers up the minute she thinks about how her son could be poised to win "The Voice." She says win or lose, her "heart is so happy" for him. But the real question is: Does she mind sharing him with the rest of the world?

"Oh, I will," she laughed. "Why wouldn't I?"

Amy Carlson Gustafson can be reached at 651-228-5561. Follow her at twitter.com/amygustafson.