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The Catalyst interview: Billy Gilman

Bill DeYoung



Billy Gilman will sing Thursday, Jan. 26 a the Floridian Social Club. Publicity photo.

Billy Gilman, who performs Jan. 26 at the Floridian Social Club, was one of the biggest American success stories of the year 2000. His song “One Voice” was a major hit on the country, pop and adult contemporary charts, while the album of the same name sold more than two million copies.

Billy Gilman was 12 years old at the time; he became the youngest artist in history to have a solo top 40 hit on the country charts. He appeared on Oprah, toured with Billy Ray Cyrus and sang at the Grand Ole Opry. Two more gold albums followed.

Then, after a while, nothing. Crickets.

Gilman returned with a vengeance in 2016 as a contestant on TV’s The Voice.

The voice in question – Gilman’s  – had matured (as had the vocalist himself); during his “blind” audition, delivering (with a wallop) Adele’s “When We Were Young,” he so impressed judges Adam Levine, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys and Blake Shelton they “turned their chairs” and were effusive in their praise. Shelton and Cyrus both said they remembered “One Voice” fondly. (He made it through the end of the season, but did not “win.”)

In this interview, Gilman discusses the uncomfortable period between that first hit record and his return to center stage on The Voice.

Tickets for the Jan. 26 concert, part of the “Live on Central” series, are here.


St. Pete Catalyst: You’re recording in Nashville this week. What are you working on?

Billy Gilman: Some brand new stuff! After being unsigned for 10, 11 years we signed a record deal, and we started production a few weeks ago. It’s very exciting. It’s been a long time. And it’s actually a project I’ve been wanting to do since I was very little, but they didn’t believe in it. And I guess I’m good at being patient because now it’s come to fruition. I think people who saw me on The Voice won’t expect it. I’m throwing a monkey wrench in. It’s very unexpected – and that’s what I like.


Is it a tribute to Black Sabbath?

Dammit! Did Ozzy call you?


What’s your vocal range? It’s pretty amazing.

Back when I recorded “One Voice,” when I was a kid, I only had an octave and a half. And them when I went into voice change I almost damaged it, singing when I shouldn’t have, and then I had to go on voice rest … it was a real bad time, because I thought if I kept singing the muscle would stay. And that’s just not so with Mother Nature. We change; it’s what happens.

Coming out of it, and re-training my voice for a year and a half, just learning it over again like it’s a brand-new thing … I found my voice had grown to three octaves. Almost three-and-a-half on a good day.

I’m very blessed. I’m very, very lucky, because I was not sure it would come back at all.


Was there really a time when you thought you were going to be one of those kids who had a hit but didn’t survive it? That was it for the career?

Absolutely, to the point of suicidal thoughts, because I didn’t know how to function in normal life. I was constantly in fear and panic, where I wouldn’t get out of bed for weeks on end, because I didn’t know where my head was going to go. Because judging by what I heard, and what I used to have, I firmly believed it wasn’t going to come back. And I thought, how do I even set my sails to school? Do I go to college? What would I like? I mean, everything I’ve ever known has revolved around music. There was no other option, so there was no other mindset. Ever, ever. It really was scary.


Did you think: I’ve been out of it for a while, even if my voice comes back, are they going to remember who I am?

It’s been not quite 23 years since I started to record in Nashville. And I’m only 34. I still go into a building and they’re like “Billy Gilman! What are you doing?” It’s still there. The fans never change. The fans don’t forget. They’re the most loyal. I learned that when I was on The Voice.


How much of a shot of encouragement was The Voice? It looked very emotional. Was it reinforcement that you had talent?

That’s not what I needed from the show. I know that I can sing different from most male singers in the world. I’m grateful; I’m not cocky about it. Whether it’s successful or not, I just know my capability. I’m sure there’s someone on a couch in Omaha that can sing better than any of us, they just don’t know.

What I needed to know was: Did anybody care? I wasn’t sure America cared any more. And that’s what the emotional part was.


The music business has changed so much – does it actually matter if an artist has a label deal?

Everyone says it doesn’t, but all the ones that say it doesn’t matter are on Curb and RCA and Sony. I do pay attention to my social media, because it is quite important to this day and age. But I’m so old-school that I sometimes fall short on the innovative ways to make a fan. It’s tough for me. So that’s where a label comes in, and helps with the normal way that we’re all used to. Which is still a viable thing.

I haven’t needed it for the past 10 years, and I still made a sustainable life. But for this next chapter I think it was appropriate to at least try, and throw it out on the wall to see if anything sticks. Which it did.

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