"I went in hoping that Blake was going to turn, but it ended up Kelly was the only one who turned," Hoot says of his blind audition performance of Luke Combs' "When It Rains It Pours." "It was kind of an easy choice there, but I think it worked out for the best. I love Blake, respect the guy and would love to work with him at some point, but Kelly and I worked really well together."
The Clarkson connection succeeded in part because she, too, excelled as a contestant on a popular singing competition.
"More than anything, I think her experience of having gone through the same thing, going through American Idol, and being where she is now, she knows what it takes and she knows the grind you have to go through," Hoot says. "It was a really good and educational experience."
Per Hoot's description of Clarkson, she's as funny, sarcastic and kind as fans would hope.
"If you saw her off-camera, you'd never think she's at the level she's at just because she's so genuine and down to earth," he adds.
With The Voice in his rear-view mirror, Hoot's focused on sharing original material and expanding his image beyond that of a covers artist. Most every country singer starts out playing other people's songs, but there's a difference in perception between performing them on NBC versus entertaining a dive bar crowd for tips.
"The Voice gave me a platform that I'm very grateful for to get my image, my voice, everything on national television and boost my social media," he says. "It was incredible, but now that that's over, it's starting from ground zero. It's all about the music I put out. Don't get me wrong, I love covers. I've done really good with covers, but I want to put my own stamp on country music."
As Hoot builds off the popularity of "Better Off Without You" (his one co-write heard on the show), expect to hear original songs influenced by some of his favorites: Vince Gill, Bryan White, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Eric Paslay, George Strait and one of the stars to guest on Hoot's season of The Voice, Combs.
"Luke Combs, I think, has taken country back to that '90s style, and that's the kind of style I love," Hoot says. "Seeing how successful he's been doing it influences me, as well... I've got his album playing on repeat anytime I get in the car or the truck."
Hoot had to attend a mandatory meeting while Combs was on-set, so sadly there was no photo-op involving a couple of bearded Carolina Panthers fans.
However, Hoot got plenty of one-on-one time before his "dream come true" performance with Little Big Town.
"I've loved Little Big Town forever, it seems like," he says. "When they asked me who I wanted to sing with, I was like, 'Easy, Little Big Town.' Just because I love harmonies, and what they do is just on-point all the time. Everyone at that point said you're going to like them. They're nice people. Getting to sit actually in the artist tent and talk to them and kind of get to know them a little bit and getting to share the stage with them, they're so down to earth and very sweet and encouraging."
The Voice win and the Feb. 4 Grand Ole Opry debut that followed was quite the ride for a singer/songwriter from a family of nine children and a former college football player for the Tennessee Tech Eagles in Cookeville, Tennessee. Better yet, that journey to Nashville prominence is far from finished for both Hoot and his loudest and proudest supporter, Clarkson.
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