The day before my interview with Billy Gilman he was busy singing the national anthem at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center for the Patriots, who had just won the Super Bowl. He was hanging out with Governor Raimondo and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, and getting his picture taken with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. No big deal. Just a typical Tuesday.
What’s great about Billy is even when he’s having a moment as crazy as singing next to Gronk, he’s still just a genuine, kind-hearted guy. He’s hugely talented and he still acts just like a kid who lives in Hope Valley, which is where he’s from. With his recent success on the hit show The Voice, Billy remains down-to-earth and true to his Rhode Island roots. He just happens to be an amazing singer.
Billy originally exploded onto the music scene in early 2000. He had a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and a top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot Country songs charts. He had a debut album called One Voice, a Grammy nomination, oh, and he was only twelve. Being a kid who loved music in Rhode Island, he says his life wasn’t much different than say, someone growing up in Arkansas. “I was singing since birth,” he says. It was always just the way it was for me.” Billy considers himself to be lucky though, since his family truly supported his desire to be a singer. “They wanted to see me succeed. They weren’t like, you’ve got to be a lawyer or a doctor. They gave me karaoke machines, guitars. My grandmother sent me to my first vocal coach. They did everything to inspire me.”
He’s truly a person who loves music and that love has only deepened as he’s gotten older. When asked about his musical influences one name quickly popped into mind. “Pam Tillis, country singer. Love her. I saw her on a little special on TV when I was like six and I knew I wanted to do that,” he says. “I would listen and learn all her songs, she really inspired me. She had this one song called ‘Cleopatra, Queen of Denial’ and it was so inappropriate for a six year old, but I loved it.” His guilty pleasure song that he will sing to no matter what? “MMMBop” by Hanson.
Billy has been singing all of his life, even before he made his entrance into the pop music scene. From his debut at 12 to his recent time on The Voice he says, “I was singing, doing shows, it was enough to make a living. I was happy but I felt like the music and the fans deserved more. The people who have always supported me, they deserved more.” The love that Billy has for his fans is powerful. “They’re very loyal. They’d tweet me and be retweeting what I was doing.They always stuck by me.”
Last year Billy was a part of the blind auditions for season 11 of The Voice. He sang Adele’s “When We Were Young” and captivated the judges. All four of the judges turned their chairs around, meaning Billy got to choose who would be his coach for the show. With his choice of Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, Blake Shelton or Adam Levine of Maroon 5, Billy selected Adam Levine. Fun fact? According to Billy, Adam was completely hands-on during the show. He hung out with Billy outside of recording sessions and invited him to his concerts. “People come up and say, ‘It looks like you’re friends,’ but he was. All of the judges put forth the energy to be your friend.”
It wasn’t Billy who thought of going on The Voice, though. He says: “Actually, it was them, to be truthful. I didn’t think of doing [the show] and they approached me. They contacted my manager and they wanted to know if I was still singing, and of course I was. They scouted me. They asked me to do it for three seasons and I kept saying no. But then I thought of my fans, and I jumped in.” Billy went on to make it all the way to the final two, coming in as runner-up to winner Sundance Head.
He also totally loves his home state and everything about it. “I’m a total Rhode Islander,” he says, laughing. “Rhode Island has so much to offer. It’s crazy. We have the beach, we have the city, and not many places have that. I’m so grateful to have grown up in a state that provides so much. Like the Red Sox, they could be in last place, but those seats are sold out. New Englanders, especially Rhode Islanders, they stick by you. I certainly felt it after coming in second in this show. We are a special breed, we’re always there for each other.” His favorite thing to do in RI? “I’m such a foodie. I love Siena [in Providence], I love Richard’s Pub in East Greenwich. Oh, and Main Street Coffee in East Greenwich, too. I love to be in and around the culture of Rhode Island, and there’s so much great food.” Rhode Island clearly loves him back; there’s a signed picture of him from when he was a kid hanging up in The Wood River Inn in Hope Valley. “I was very, very young, and they haven’t updated it. It’s one of the shots of me when I was like 10 or 11. I actually did a concert there in like 1999. They wanted to have a concert so I did it in the dining room.”
Since The Voice ended, life has been crazy for the singer, but Billy is dedicated to what comes next. When asked about his plans he says, “It is all work, work, work! Record label meetings, all kinds of stuff. Movies, concerts – I want to tour the world and, of course, say ‘thank you’ to those that voted for me week after week on The Voice. I want to do movies, clothing, but never lose sight of my true love, which is singing.” He laughs and pauses for a second, the foodie in him coming out, and says: “I’d love to try out a cookbook or a cooking show.”
For the foreseeable future, though, Billy is staying in Rhode Island – a mere 20 minutes from where his parents live and where he grew up. He says he’s looking forward to the beach this summer and can’t wait to grab a Del’s. After everything though, you’d think that Rhode Island’s star would be ready to break out and leave his little state behind. Not Billy. “My boyfriend asked me: ‘New York? LA?’ and I said, ‘Nope. Rhode Island.’”