Todd Tilghman Reflects On His ‘The Voice’ Journey, Sets His Sights On ‘Country Soul’ Music

Todd Tilghman; Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC
Todd Tilghman; Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC
Todd Tilghman; Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC

Todd Tilghman’s life changed in an instant when he was recently crowned champion of season 18 of The Voice. The 42-year-old father of eight and lead pastor of Cornerstone Church in Meridian, Mississippi, captured the hearts of millions and became the oldest person to ever win the popular singing competition show. Guided through the season by coach Blake Shelton, Tilghman earned the country superstar star his seventh Voice win and first win in five seasons.

After receiving an impressive four-chair-turn with his audition performance of “We’ve Got Tonight” by Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Tilghman went on to showcase his genre-defying sound throughout the season with performances of country songs like “Anymore” by Travis Tritt and “Love, Me” by Collin Raye and contemporary Christian tunes such as “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe and “Glory of Love” by Peter Cetera.

During the show’s two-night finale, Tilghman debuted his new, original song, “Long Way Home,” which was originally heard on NBC’s hit show, Songland. Written by Dustin Christensen, Ester Dean, Ryan Donald Innes, Adam Korbesmeyer, Shane McAnally, Ryan Tedder and Michael Wise, the song reached No. 1 on the iTunes Overall Chart and No. 1 on the iTunes Country Chart upon its debut.

Now, just weeks after his crowning moment, Tilghman is navigating his new normal and preparing for the next step in his career. With a new recording contract, thanks to The Voice, the rising star is ready to find his place within the music industry.

Country Now caught up with Tilghman just hours before his The Voice win was celebrated with a parade in his hometown. Now a massive local celebrity, Tilghman admits he’s a bit overwhelmed with his newfound fame.

“I don’t think for a minute that I deserve any of it,” he told us. “It’s just so cool and it’s like a dream. I can’t believe it’s happened to me. It’s just all unreal.”

During our interview, Tilghman was driving across town to prepare for the parade and at one point, was flagged down by fans at a stoplight.

“I’m sorry, people are honking at me in the road,” he said before graciously chatting with the person in the car next to him while stopped.

“Sorry, that’s when you win The Voice in a small town,” he laughed.

Continue reading for our interview with Tilghman where he opened up about working with Shelton, his plans for making music after The Voice and more.

Congratulations on your big win. It’s only been a couple of days, but has your life already changed dramatically since the finale? 

I would say yes. Just in that, lots of people who, I guess never really knew who I was before now care a lot. I also stay on the phone with somebody or on Zoom or on FaceTime or Skype.

That’s got to be a little strange. 

Yeah. I’m actually kind of getting used to it now. At first, it was weird to me that people wanted to talk to me, but now it’s all good.

How is your family adjusting to everything? 

Oh, they’re loving it. You know, our family, a lot of times I think people are just sort of like blown away that we have this giant family. But you know, I try to tell everybody, even though we have eight kids, we don’t have octuplets. We’ve got a kid that’s 20, we’ve got one to 16 and so we all kind of team up and so basically everybody in our family is sort of just doing their part. My older kids are all excited about it all on social media. My younger kids are painting pictures and drawing pictures and stuff, but everybody’s all in.

How about the music charts? At one point your single was charting above Luke Bryan. That’s got to feel pretty incredible.  

Let me, let me start out by saying I appreciate other people in my life cause I never noticed. I never paid any attention to who I was above. But, what I did notice was that it was at number one and that was insane. When the songs sort of first came out, I noticed just because I went to download it. Somebody texted me and told me it was on the charts and so I looked at iTunes and I was, I think I was either 64 or 65. I can’t remember, and I was just over the moon about that, you know? I was like, ‘holy crap, my song is number 64 on iTunes!’ And then by the time I went to bed that night, it was number one. And then I found out that it was like number 10 on the Billboard Emerging Artists chart. I don’t know how to feel, you know? It’s kind of like when you have a birthday when you were a kid and your dad walks in says, ‘well, do you feel like you’re a year older?’ I’m like, well, ‘I guess, I don’t know.’ I’m just really grateful. This whole thing, I’m just super grateful for it. I don’t think for a minute that I deserve any of it. It’s just so cool and it’s like a dream. I can’t believe it’s happened to me. It’s just all unreal.

Todd Tilghman; Photo by: Mitchell Haddad/NBC
Todd Tilghman; Photo by: Mitchell Haddad/NBC

I love that! Can you sort of rewind a bit and explain how you decided to audition and what that was like? 

Well, there were a handful of things that went into that. First of all, as mundane as it seems, I started out by trying to teach myself how to play piano, which still is not really going well, but I would basically just like bang out the songs on the piano and just sing them on Instagram. A friend of mine was watching them and she reached out to me on Instagram and said, ‘you should sign up for The Voice.’ She sent me the open call audition dates and the link for registering. I went on and I registered for the show. That was probably close to a year ago that I did that. And over time, I had sort of decided not to audition. Time passed and you get busy and you get preoccupied with your life. Secondly, I’d taken my wife to a conference in Colorado and so we were out of town and we drove, so from Mississippi, that’s a pretty long haul, you know. We got back home from that and my audition was scheduled for [a few days later]. I just told my wife, ‘I don’t think I’m going to go.’ It was just an open call in Atlanta, Georgia. And Atlanta is about four and a half, five hours from where I live. So I basically just told her, ‘I don’t think I’m going to go. It’s too much.’ My wife just really encouraged me. She was like, ‘you’re going to regret it. I think if you don’t go, you’ll regret it.’ And I was like, ‘how would I even know?’ I wouldn’t even know to regret it cause you don’t know what would have happened. But anyway, she sort of talked me into it.

When you auditioned did you have any idea that you would end up winning? 

No, no. I was frustrated when I went because I knew they were just going to turn me away at the open call. I don’t mean that…I do want to clarify. I don’t think that I suck at singing, you know, it was more of just like there are so many people out there who are so good and developed professionally. I sang in church my whole life and you know, in my mind I just assumed that those would be the people who would make the cut even there in the open call. That day was one of the more intimidating days of my life.

The season obviously took a turn that no one could have predicted due to the coronavirus. Were you and the other contestants disappointed that you didn’t get a chance to have the experience of performing on The Voice stage with the lights and audience during the live shows? 

I know a couple of other people were, I think, disappointed, but for several reasons. First of all, there is this big, big, like giant stage and lights and all this big experience. But also,I would imagine the other 19 would be on the same team as me. When we say that we had done a lot of planning in our lives around leaving and going, going back to L.A…you know how it is anytime like you get shocking news like that, I guess your psyche, it takes a minute for it to adjust. Over time I sort of adjusted to the idea, but then by the end of it, I’m really very glad that it went the way that it did because to me it, even right now, driving down the road, talking to you, my favorite moment from this entire season was when I stood in front of my tablet and watched my performance of ‘Love, Me’ and, and it would not have been the same in L.A., it just wouldn’t have been.You know me, well, you don’t know me personally, but people know enough about me to know I’m a man of faith and I just really feel like… my wife and me, I’ve said from the very beginning of this, every time I was super nervous or really outright scared because I did the whole thing afraid, every step of the way. I was scared to death of what might happen and my anxiety was super high. But one of the things that I would say to myself and one of the things that my wife would say to me to sort of soothe my anxiety was that this is already written. It’s already written. Whatever’s going to happen is already written. And so,  I really just feel like, for me personally, I feel like a few of the other ones would probably say the same. That I think God just had it in the cards for it to be done this way. And I’m thankful that it was.

Blake Shelton, Todd Tilghman; The Voice Finale
Blake Shelton, Todd Tilghman; The Voice Finale

How was working with Blake Shelton? After getting to know him some, was there anything that surprised you about him? 

I mean, as far as surprises, that’s a hard thing to say because Blake has always had always, always, always come across to me as a nice guy. Let me just say that I never thought that he wasn’t a nice guy, but to me, being a nice and a good guy and being a really kind person are kind of different. And he turned out to just be really kind, you know what I mean? Like as well as being a fun, nice guy. He just has like a real, almost like a soft side to him. He’s just super kind. That was great.

Do you have any plans to work Blake again in the future? 

Not yet. Those conversations are coming, but not yet. Actually, I’m not a hundred percent sure what’s going on with Blake, but myself, my heels have not cooled yet. But, we had some conversations about getting together as soon as, you know, the world allows us to get together.

Did he offer any advice to you that will continue to stick with you as you embark on the next chapter of your career? 

As far as the takeaways from Blake… I don’t know how much the world knows about this. I’ve answered this question in interviews, so I’m sure some people know. I’ve always loved country music. I love nineties country music, but I just never felt like I could pull off country music with my voice because my voice is different. Blake has that really very identifiable country voice, him and people like him, and I just don’t have that. But, on the show, he taught me that it’s something that I can do. He allowed me to do a few songs that I really love that are clearly in the country vein. So that’s one thing that he taught me, is that that’s a lane that I could go in and I could be successful at it. I joke around and say, maybe I’ll start a new genre, unless soul country is already a genre. Maybe I’m going to kick off soul country.

I know you covered some nineties country on the show. That Collin Raye cover was definitely a fan-favorite. When you record your own music, is that kind of sound something that you will incorporate into your original music moving forward? 

Yeah, I believe it will be. Because, first of all, I’m a sentimental guy, so basically any really big, fun, crazy songs that are going to be on my album are just gonna either have to be ones that I fell in love with or it’ll just be me saying I can’t just do a whole album of ballads. So, yes, the short answer is yes. I love Collin Raye. I’ve actually gotten to speak with him and get to know him a little since that, you know. It was just over the phone. I was kind of star-struck. It’s so funny, while we were on the phone,I was just rattling off all these songs of his that I love. ‘Cause he’s a lot like me as far as sentiment goes. Now his voice is a lot different of course, but as far as like sentiment goes, he’s a lot like I am. So yeah, I hope to produce music in that vein.

Fans can keep up with Todd Tilghman on Instagram.