Billy Gilman moved one step closer to victory on NBC’s The Voice Monday night, earning a spot on coach Adam Levine’s team as one of the Top 12 contestants. On the first of Season 11’s live shows, as the competition winnowed down from 20 hopefuls, even Levine’s chief rival, Blake Shelton, labeled the former child star “a no-brainer.” Levine echoed that sentiment, telling Gilman, “What you do is tremendous and kind of unbelievable to the ear.”
“I can’t complain, that’s for sure,” Gilman tells Rolling Stone Country of his experience on The Voice, just before the first live show. “It’s been a fantastic ride so far and hopefully I will only continue to be better.”
Gilman’s emotion-filled performance of the Roy Orbison classic “Crying” (watch the performance below) elicited only happy tears from the singer and his supporters, but the 28-year-old, who edged out Brenda Lee in 2000 to become the youngest artist to have a Top 40 country hit when he was 12, began his journey on the singing competition battling apprehension, fear and criticism from viewers. With just one Top 20 country hit and a double-platinum-selling debut LP, Gilman battled back from the onset of puberty and indifference from record labels and country radio, eventually re-branding himself as a pop artist and coming out as a gay man in 2014 – none of which made the decision to pursue The Voice as an option any easier.
“I had been told ‘no’ so many times throughout my career, trying to come back, that I felt like if all these record people are saying, ‘No, people won’t get it,’ if I go in front of all these judges and in front of America, will they get it?” he says. “There was a lot of scarring there. A lot of meetings took place with people, some of whom weren’t even in the music business anymore – certain record label heads that were fans of mine that I always went to for advice. They said, ‘What have you got to lose?’ That’s what really turned me on to doing it in the first place. What have I got to lose? There’s more to gain.”
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The public’s misconception that The Voice is a singing competition only geared to amateur performers is something Gilman has had to look past, which can be difficult, given today’s social-media-conscious environment.
“Legally, if you don’t have a record label, everyone is from the same pool,” he explains. “It was 16, almost 17 years ago that [my single] ‘One Voice’ came out. Quite frankly, to knock myself a little bit, do you hear me on the radio or see my videos on the mainstream pipeline? The answer is no. It’s out of my head. It has to be. If you listen to everything [the public says], half the artists in the entire world would be dead. You can’t look to someone else for an answer. It has to come from within you. There’s always a negative side to everything so if people have an attitude like that, well, the [coaches’] chairs didn’t necessarily have to turn, either.”
While living in Los Angeles during his time on the show, Gilman has been impressed with how in tune the judges are to the contestants, no matter which team they’re on. “It’s not just, ‘OK, we’re going to show up and look good for 30 minutes and then we’re leaving.’ They call you, they are constantly thinking of ways to better you. That blew me away.”
The Voice continues next Monday with a special appearance from reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year Garth Brooks, who will take a break from his continuing tour schedule to serve as mentor to the Top 12 artists. On Friday, November 11th, Brooks’ 10-album boxed set, The Ultimate Collection, will be released exclusively at Target, while his first-ever duet album with wife Trisha Yearwood, Christmas Together, is also available that day. November 25th will see the release of Brooks’ 10th studio LP, Gunslinger.
The Voice returns Monday, November 14th at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC.