During his run on The Voice, Jake Hoot performed his original music for cameras, sang in front of country icon Blake Shelton and even edged out stiff competition to claim his season’s winning spot. After all that, he told Country Now, he was still a little anxious about making his Grand Ole Opry debut in early February of 2020.
“I mean, I was talking to someone and they said, ‘The Opry’s always a bucket list item.’ But it’s the whole bucket list for me,” Hoot reveals. “I’ve always wanted to play there, and you know, I’m kinda nervous to step in that circle.”
Though he’s a Texas native, Hoot actually grew up far removed from the Opry stage. He was the child of Baptist missionaries and spent much of his childhood doing mission work in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. “I grew up overseas, so we didn’t really hear much about the Opry. But when I moved back, we came up to the Opry a bunch of times,” he says.
In fact, his strongest early memories of the hallowed stage come through a family connection. “Probably the most memorable memory I have [of the Grand Ole Opry] is taking my grandparents for their first time,” he recalls. “I can remember my mamaw asking me, like, ‘Hopefully you’ll be up there someday.’ I said, ‘I hope I’m gonna be up there too. I’m gonna give it my best shot.’”
On The Voice, Hoot quickly established himself as a staunch country traditionalist with strong ‘90s influences. Despite his overseas experiences and the ways in which his upbringing deviated from a traditional Texas childhood, he always knew he wanted to follow that route — even before he went on the show.
“I’ve always been very blessed to kinda know who I am,” he explains. “Obviously, you go through phases in life where you’re trying to find who you are and what you wanna do and everything, but I even back when I started college, [I always had a pretty good sense of my musical identity.]”
In fact, he says, his childhood experiences may have helped give him the confidence to stick to that identity. “I don’t know if it was growing up in the Dominican Republic or what, but I never really followed the crowd that much,” Hoot goes on to say. “I was just kind of that nerdy guy that stuck to myself.”
Of course, the 31-year-old performer has changed and grown over the years — “listening to videos that I recorded in college, compared to what I sound like now, it’s totally different,” he points out — but at heart, he’ll always be a traditionalist.
During his stint on The Voice, Shelton actually wasn’t Hoot’s coach — Kelly Clarkson was the only one who turned her chair around during his blind audition. While Shelton would have been a more obvious choice, Hoot says that Clarkson turned out to be able to offer him invaluable and unique advice. Furthermore, no one on the show ever pushed him away from the country sound he’d long ago decided was right for him.
“They let me be who I was. I didn’t really have to step out of my pocket,” Hoot says. “The only uncomfortable thing I had to do was sing without my guitar, and I quickly realized that I was comfortable doing that. It was a learning experience.”
The learning experiences are far from over for Hoot, who says that his biggest challenge since winning The Voice has been digging more into his skill set as a songwriter. He’d dipped his toe into the Nashville songwriting community prior to the show, and the original number he performed on the season finale, “Better Off Without You,” was actually the first song he ever co-wrote (his co-writer, Dave Pahanish, is now a frequent collaborator for Hoot.)
While he may have been well-established as a performer and confident in his identity before he stepped on The Voice stage, Hoot was still relatively green as a co-writer. Now, his win has massively expanded his fanbase and name recognition. Hoot has the opportunity to collaborate with more world-class writers than ever before.
“I’m writing every week right now. I’m getting to co-write with some incredible writers, and I would love to release an album this year,” he says, hedging that by adding that some of his contract negotiations still need to be worked out before he can release a new project.
In the meantime, Hoot is focusing on taking his career step by step, balancing his career against his personal life. He’s a father to a four-year-old daughter, who loves the spotlight and loves seeing her dad on TV. The singer admits that juggling fatherhood and his country career has been a learning experience, too.
“I’m a dad first. I don’t ever want to not be present in her life,” he asserts. “She’s only four, so I don’t think she fully grasps everything that’s going on and everything that’s happening, but you know, she’s been excited…I think the biggest thing right now is just trying to balance all that and be a dad.”
So far, Hoot is managing to bring his family along for the ride — in some cases, literally. His daughter came to Nashville to watch his Grand Ole Opry debut, along with his girlfriend, all eight of his siblings, their families, his parents and even his grandparents, who joined him for that first memorable family trip up to the hallowed stage.
“[My mamaw] was the first person who called me after the announcement [that I was gonna make my Opry debut],” he says. “I’m a story guy, and I feel like anytime you walk in that place, it’s full of stories. Now, to get to stand in that circle that so many songs and stories and people have been on — it’s an incredible thing.”