It’s hard to know where to start with this.
By now, if you’re one of the millions of people who either 1. Watch The Voice or 2. Keep up with country music blogs, you’ve probably heard about the return of child star Billy Gilman. Sixteen years ago he debuted on the country scene with his song ‘One Voice,’ and while his career skyrocketed for several years after that, he eventually faded into the background after his voice began changing. Once he decided to make a comeback, the landscape of the genre had changed. He had, too. Billy made more headlines about a year ago when he decided to come out, and despite a new single, he still barely managed to break through. Now, it looks like good ole Billy has found a path, and it may be what makes him.
But all of that is beside the point. Those nuggets I just shared with you can basically be found on any news source right now. And what I want to talk about is Billy the person. Billy the kid. Billy, our friend. Because like it or not, Billy has been an extreme part of my life since I was 9 years old. And not in the ways you might think.
My mom is the easiest one to blame. She saw a young Billy perform on TV back when his first single dropped, and she was so impressed by his talent that the whole family got roped into numerous trips and concerts – from the Ohio State Fair, where he co-headlined with Jessica Andrews, to the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw, Indiana. We began to get to know Billy and the people who surrounded him – other fans, friends and family. Standing outside the backstage fence in Ohio, we encountered “Mrs. Billy Gilman,” along with her twin sister MOH and other bridal party members, complete with handmade t-shirts. Those girls became great friends and role models who invited us to their choir concerts and instilled in me the longing to join my high school choir (once I got old enough, of course).
You see, even though I always credit Keith Urban for my distinct passion for country music, I’ll come clean and say that Billy Gilman was the reason for our first fateful trip to CMA Fest in 2005.
And it was through my mom’s connections on one of Billy’s fan site forums that I gained the opportunity to work my first industry event as the “camera girl” at his fan booth/meet and greet at CMA Fest ’07. Only because of this experience did I learn about Belmont University and the ability to major in music business. And only here did I first meet a father who came over to check on one of his daughter’s favorite childhood artists. Her name was Taylor Swift. He took us over to introduce us to the fam, but it turned out she was a little too busy. He gave us some guitar picks instead.
It was during my freshman year of college that I was asked to interview someone in the music industry and write a paper around them. I was lucky enough to speak with Billy at a writers’ night he played that month – he handed over his personal email address and I was given the satisfaction of turning in a very unexpected essay subject. Looking back, how cool was it of him to do that for me? I will always be grateful.
I think, in a completely selfish way, that the most important thing about this “relationship” my family has with Billy is that I’ve never been his crazy, blinded #1 fan. But I’ve been able to learn so much by standing gracefully on the sidelines. I’ve watched a career ebb and flow. I’ve experienced an artist who truly remembers the people who have stood by him all these years. I’ve met a number of people through him, people who still remember my mom and I and have reached out since Billy’s audition tape went viral just this past week. I inadvertently discovered my own path through the things I was able to do because of Billy. And now I get to watch him on TV and cheer him on while his single travels up the iTunes charts and his name becomes a trending topic on social media. I feel lucky to say I knew him when. And I respect him all that much more for finally coming into his own and being able to live out his passions and serve as inspiration for people from all walks of life – struggling artists, never-give-up dreamers, those questioning their sexuality or their place in this world.
You wanna talk about the benefits of redefinition? Well, what a place to start.