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Billy Gilman

illy burst onto the music scene with a show-stopping performance that resulted in a standing ovation at the recent Academy of Country Music Awards. "It was a life-altering experience," he told music legend Dick Clark backstage.

When his debut single "One Voice" entered the Billboard chart, the 4’7" powerhouse edged out Brenda Lee to become the youngest person ever to have a song on the magazine’s Country Singles Chart. The "One Voice" music video, an emotional, deeply moving clip, became a top request the very week it hit the airwaves.

An album of immediate appeal and remarkable assurance, One Voice is in fact the culmination of the young musician’s earliest dreams. The 11 cuts were delivered by the triple-strength production crew of David Malloy (Reba McEntire, Eddie Rabbit), Don Cook (Brooks & Dunn, Lonestar) and Blake Chancey (Dixie Chicks). Yet the voice – and what a voice – is all Billy’s own. From the inspirational message of the title track and first single to the danceable zest of "Little Bitty Pretty One," from a high-energy remake of Sixties classic "Little Things" to the uplifting dynamism of "There’s a Hero," this is music that instantly engages the listener – and then lingers in the heart and soul.

Of his studio experience, he again waxes zealous, "It was more than fun. It was better than any dream I’ve ever had." "On stage, I can just go crazy," he says – and indeed he’s a dynamo live, a whirlwind not afraid to cut loose and be himself – "but in the studio, you have to focus in a different way." Whether on a ballad or a rocker, either the timeless "What’s Forever For" or Bobby Braddock’s ode to love gone wrong "The Snake Song," Billy delivered – and it’s a an unforgettable voice, strong, supple and of crystalline clarity.

And it’s a true reflection of Billy Gilman. A rare combination of intimidating talent and genuine boyish charm (Norman Rockwell could have painted his portrait), Billy is that unusual phenomenon – a natural. "At school, for Show ‘n’ Tell, the other kids would bring in comic book stuff or science projects," he says. "I’d always sing." While in recent months the singer has enjoyed his television debut on TNN, meeting with the impressive likes of Dolly Parton and Dixie Chicks, and sharing stages with George Strait and Tim McGraw, his upbringing is decidedly down-home, emphatically small-town American.

Raised outside Providence in the tree-lined neighborhoods of Hope Valley, Rhode Island, Billy grew up listening to pure country. "Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Eddie Arnold, all the classics," he lists, of the records his grandparents played. Interesting fare for a New England youngster, but it was the emotional singing style of country’s classic performers, he says, that hooked him.

His mother and father, while delighted with their son’s gift and supportive of his efforts from the start, are hardly stereotypical stage-struck parents hovering in the wings, egging him on. "No," Billy says with a chuckle. "I always say that they’re not bringing me into the music business, I’m bringing them."

Through a series of introductions, Ray Benson, of the legendary Asleep at the Wheel, became one of Billy’s guiding lights. Ray recorded a demo with Billy in Austin, Texas and then introduced him to the Nashville scene. "He’s a tall guy," Billy says, "but to me it’s like he’s 10 feet tall" – and it’s obvious that the boy is speaking not only about Ray’s height but how large the man figures in Billy’s estimation.

One Voice, then, is his musical calling card – a kind of passport to the life of music making he’s long envisioned. "I can’t remember when I didn’t want to sing," he says. "This is what I’ve always dreamed of."

And, whether it’s a TV appearance with Rosie O’Donnell, a Grand Ole Opry performance, his first Fan Fair or recording a future Christmas album, Billy is ready. One gem on his album boasts a title that could serve as an apt description for his drive: "I Wanna Get to Ya."

The odds are overwhelming that Billy Gilman will succeed. An expressive, delightful, articulate and powerful vocalist with a dynamic stage presence, he possesses qualities rarely reserved for a young man of Billy’s years. The challenge is not to justify those qualities but to embrace them and present them in a way that honors his talent, dreams and ambitions.


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