Ross Donnan started his Monmouth College baseball career in style, as his first hit as a Fighting Scot was a home run.
Donnan is hoping to make a similar splash in an entirely different endeavor this spring, as he’ll be a contestant on the NBC singing contest, The Voice.
Competing under his stage name of Ross Clayton (Clayton is his middle name) the 2012 Monmouth graduate is hoping for a four-chair turn in his audition, which would be the equivalent of knocking it out of the park. The judges he’ll have to impress are Voice regulars Blake Shelton and Kelly Clarkson, as well as new coaches Niall Horan and Chance the Rapper.
Donnan’s music is described as “a bittersweet blend of modern Americana country and old-school twang,” drawing inspiration from artists such as the Zac Brown Band, George Strait and Bob Seger.
The narcissistic dentist
Donnan’s roots in performance can be traced to his senior year of high school, when he said “peer pressure” led him to audition for a part in the Evanston (Illinois) Township High School production of the musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors.
“I had a lot of friends who were doing it, and they told me how much fun it is, and how you get attention from the girls, and how great the cast parties are,” said Donnan, who now lives in McLoud, Oklahoma, where he’s a software developer. “I said, ‘Sure, why not? It’s my senior year. I’ll try something new.'”
Donnan’s audition went so well that he was given a leading role.
“I was Steve Martin, if you’ve seen the 1986 movie,” said Donnan. “I was Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., the narcissistic dentist.”
His Monmouth experience
It was also during Donnan’s senior year that he needed to plan for his next chapter. At a baseball showcase, he connected with Monmouth’s coach at the time, the late Roger Sander.
“I liked the vision he provided about the program and about the College and the campus,” said Donnan. “I loved that it was a smaller campus. My high school class was almost 1,000 people. I’m a little more of a small-group guy. On my visit, it just felt right, and I got to talk to Coach a little more. A big part of it was a baseball decision.”
Donnan had one more important person to talk to – Monmouth’s Chicagoland admission recruiter.
“Peter Pitts called me on Thanksgiving Day to let me know that my application had been accepted,” said Donnan. “And that was it. Monmouth is the only college I applied to.”
Donnan initially considered a history major but soon found a home in the communication studies department, taking classes with Chris Goble and Trudi Peterson.
His baseball career was fulfilling, too, both on the field and off. As a junior, he led the team with a .348 average and 35 RBI, earning All-Central Region Third Team honors. He also recalled the bonds he formed with his teammates.
“My group of seniors was the most solid group of guys,” said Donnan of teammates that included other starting position players such as Kyle Higginson, Mitch Johnson, Caleb Ruyle and Brad Winkler and closer Zach Myers. “To this day, I stay in touch with them. It was just a good mesh, a good connection within my class.”
Donnan believes the College set him up well for the success he’s experiencing now.
“I love Monmouth,” he said. “It holds a special place in my heart. I grew up there. There was a lot of growth in a short time span. The professors, the staff, my friends – it’s just a special place. I love it there, and I appreciate all the support from everybody there.”
In addition to taking communication classes, Donnan dabbled academically in music and creative writing. The latter class sparked his interest in songwriting.
“I also did the talent shows and the open mic nights down in Scotland Yard,” he said. “Ed Wimp (who would soon be working with the band Earth Wind & Fire) was in my class, and we would go do that stuff and jam together. It was all very unstructured.”
Gigging in Chicago
The structure began, said Donnan, when he got out into the real world and found that he had free time after he got off work.
“Playing in college was fun, and I caught the bug,” he said. “I enjoyed the performing aspect of it. My job after college was from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., so I had entire afternoons to fill. Someone said to me, ‘Why don’t you start a band?’ So I put out an ad on Craig’s List that I was looking for musicians … and the first iteration of the Ross Clayton Band started in 2012.”
His next two years were spent “gigging all over Chicago and the Midwest,” and he briefly found an audience in Nashville, the center of the universe for country singers. He then moved to Oklahoma, where he started a family and also toured around the tristate area playing clubs, festivals and dance halls. During that time, he released a single, “Turn Up Again.”
But as his family grew – Donnan and his wife have three children, ages 8, 6 and 3 – he decided to step away from performing for a more normal life.
That changed in 2022, when Donnan was invited to send a 60-second tryout video to The Voice.
“I jokingly mentioned it to my wife, and she said, ‘Yeah, why not just do it?'” said Donnan. “It was a super low-risk, high-reward thing.”
That led to an invitation to audition in front of the celebrity judges, which Donnan has already done. He can’t be forthcoming about the details, such as the song he performed or if any judges turned their chairs for him, which would lead to further appearances on the show.
Another big finish?
As Donnan’s Fighting Scot baseball career was winding down in 2012, the Scots had been eliminated from advancing to the postseason. He knew the nightcap of a doubleheader he played against Grinnell at Glasgow Field on May 5 would be the last of his career, and he made it a memorable one.
Trailing 3-0, Donnan sparked a Monmouth rally with an RBI single. In his next at-bat, he belted the only home run of his senior season, tying the game. A few innings later, the Scots secured a walk-off win.
Donnan started and ended his Monmouth baseball career with a bang. Perhaps a few weeks from now, he’ll be able to say the same thing about his time on The Voice.
After all, his name appears in the Fighting Scots record book 17 times, some of them for hits. Maybe, just maybe, there are more hit records in store for the talented singer.
***Courtesy of Barry McNamara, Monmouth College***