For country music fans, especially those who appreciate traditional country music, Kenzie Wheeler was an instant standout on Season 20 of NBC’s The Voice.
He landed a four-chair turn with his cover of Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” and went on to perform several country songs throughout the season, including Brooks & Dunn’s “Red Dirt Road,” Luke Combs’ “Beer Never Broke My Heart” and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark,” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
His performances often earned praise from Blake Shelton, who once predicted that Wheeler would go on to win the competition. His coach, Kelly Clarkson, deemed him a “country music superstar” and told him that he would one day be playing stadiums.
Ultimately, Wheeler placed second in competition as Shelton’s Team Blake contestant, Cam Anthony, took home the crown.
Now, Wheeler is back in his Florida hometown preparing to embark on the next chapter of his musical journey.
Country Now recently caught up with the rising star to talk about his journey on The Voice, working with Kelly Clarkson and her fill-in coach, Kelsea Ballerini, and what’s next for him. Check out our exclusive Q&A below.
What made you decide to audition for The Voice and how did you choose your audition song?
It’s something that I thought about doing for a long time but I put it off because I didn’t think I was ready. But this past year everything fell into place and I was able to send a video in that my mom encouraged me to do. I chose my audition song because it’s a timeless classic country song that has always been one of my favorites by Keith Whitley.
What was going through your head when you received a four-chair turn?
Going into my audition I was only hoping for a one chair turn. So it was a really big surprise for me to get four chairs during my blind audition.
How about when Kelly blocked Blake? Were you surprised?
I wasn’t expecting that moment when Kelly blocked Blake especially a couple of seconds into my song. Blake was my first choice for sure going into my audition and Kelly was my second pick.
What was it like working with Kelly and what’s the best advice she gave you?
It was really great getting to work with Kelly. She is so down to Earth and I could talk to her like I’ve known her forever. The best advice that she gave me would have been to believe in yourself and to never give up on your dreams.
Kelly said you were “one of my favorite country singers that has ever existed.” That’s a huge compliment! What does it mean to you to hear that from her?
That’s a really big deal. She’s putting me up there with all the great country music artists. And that’s such an awesome compliment coming from Kelly.
How about Blake? He seemed to be a big fan.
I didn’t get to talk to him much but he seems like a really great guy. And I really appreciate all of the wonderful compliments that he gave me while I was on the show.
Your hair was a big topic of the season. Were your surprised by that? Will you keep your pinky promise to Kelsea Ballerini?
I was definitely surprised by all of the attention that my mullet received while I was on the show. I will absolutely keep my pinky promise to Kelsea Ballerini about never cutting my mullet off. It will be a long time before I do that.
Speaking of Kelsea, did she offer you any advice? How did it feel to perform with her on the finale?
She really didn’t give me any advice but she told me before she left that she will see me in Nashville. It was really amazing getting to sing her new single with her on The Voice. And thank you to Kenny Chesney for letting me sing his harmony part. It’s a great song and it reminds me of back home.
Looking back, what is your favorite memory from the show?
My favorite memory would have to be getting to record at Henson studios for the first time. Also, getting that four-chair turn is something that I’ll never forget.
Did you form any friendships with other contestants? Do you plan to keep in touch with them?
I did form friendships with a lot of contestants from being on the show. They are friendships that I will have forever and hopefully I can play some shows with them in the future.
You always made a point to cover more traditional-leaning country songs. Is that the kind of original music you plan to make?
Traditional country music is what I grew up listening to and it’s where my heart is. That is the kind of original music I intend to make in the near future.
Do you ever plan to move to Nashville, and what’s next for you?
Nashville is something that I’ve always thought about but it could definitely be a possibility that I’m there soon. Right now, I’m back home concentrating on booking shows, and working on new music. I will be releasing new music hopefully later this year.
Fans can keep up with Kenzie Wheeler on Instagram.