Country music fans lived out one of those "feel old yet?" memes on May 24, 2018. That was the 30th birthday of early aughts child star turned The Voice runner-up Billy Gilman.
Born William Wendell Gilman III on May 24, 1988 in Rhode Island, the future country star began singing in public at age 7. Within two years, Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson discovered Gilman and helped him record the demos that ultimately landed a record deal. By 2000, Epic Records Nashville had its own child prodigy, with debut single "One Voice" becoming the highest-charting country song by any 11 year old.
A song that truly captured a child-like sense of faith in the face of a violent world, "One Voice" cracked the Billboard Hot Country Songs' top 20 and became a top 40 crossover hit. An even younger child star than Tanya Tucker circa 1972, Gilman netted a Grammy nomination (Best Male Country Vocal Performance) for what remains his biggest hit.
Gillman revisited the song in 2021 with all-vocal country group Home Free and used the song's message to champion mental health awareness.
"I would never have imagined that America, let alone in the world, we would be seeing so many suicides," Gilman said in a 2021 press release. "If we could be a little nicer to one another and learn that we are all made differently, but we all deserve kindness, love and respect it would make the world a better place."
Double platinum debut One Voice was more than a one-hit album. Follow-up single "Oklahoma," a harrowing tale of a child stuck in foster care limbo, also cracked country music's top 40. Other standout tracks include "The Snake Song" ("He swollered a frawg!") and a mature cover of Tammy Wynette's "'Til I Can Make It On My Own."
Gillman got in a gold-selling Christmas album before puberty reared its ugly head. Sophomore album Dare to Dream arrived in 2001 as the singer's voice started changing. Artists as different from a child star as the Kentucky Headhunters went from huge debut albums and Grammy award prospects to being lost in the shuffle in a few years' time, so really it's no surprise that Gilman's 2003 album Music Through Heartsongs ended his run with Epic. (That's a dig at a fickle business, not Gilman.)
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After a pair of lesser-known country albums for Image Entertainment (2005's Everything and More and a 2006 self-titled swan song as a country singer), Gilman seemingly bowed out of the public eye.
In 2014, Ty Herndon's public announcement that he's gay gave Gilman the courage to come out. Gilman's romantically linked to longtime partner Christopher Meyer.
In 2016, Gilman reemerged as a season 11 contestant on NBC's The Voice. Through this platform, he shared his story about rediscovering himself and his musical voice after coming out.
As a member of Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine's team, Gilman demonstrated his potential as a crossover pop singer, wowing Levine's fellow judges Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys and Blake Shelton. Songs the former child star performed during the competition include Adele's "When We Were Young," Celine Dion's "I Surrender," Frank Sinatra's "My Way" and a new song titled "Because of Me." He barely fell short of the $100,000 grand prize and guaranteed record deal, won by Sundance Head.
As a 30-something, Gilman is still young. Country fame was fleeting, but life hardly passed him by, leaving hope that new music, true to a grown man's tastes and goals, sees the light of day in the coming years.
This story first ran on May 24, 2018.
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