Billy Gilman was about 11 years old when he had his first hit song, with "One Voice."
That was 10 years ago, and Billy is no longer the fair-haired, cherubic youngster whom country music fans remember from his first video.
On May 24, Billy turns 21. He's celebrating the big day with a concert May 25 at the Wolf Den in the Mohegan Sun — a 21-and-over establishment — near his childhood home in Connecticut.
"It's really cool because there's no other place I would want to spend my birthday than being home around my friends and family," Billy says. "For years I was never really home on my birthday (because of touring), so it's cool. … It had gotten to the point where birthdays were just normal days."
Not that Billy has many regrets. He says he sometimes wishes his early success had come when he was older so he could have had a greater appreciation of what was happening.
"When you're 12, you're told what to sing and what to wear and how you have to wear your hair," he recalls. "And I can't tell you how many coaches I had that would sit me down before interviews and tell me how to answer questions. So it got kind of robotic."
When Billy was 14, he noticed after a show one night that his voice hurt. He learned after an appointment at Vanderbilt Voice Center that his voice was changing, and that if he continued to push his vocal range, he could do real damage to his vocal cords.
"It took a while," he says of waiting for his voice to stabilize again. "I released a couple of albums to let the fans know I was still alive. Just last year I said, 'This is it, it's time again.' We sat down with some great writers, some even wrote with me in the past, and had fun."
Now the almost-21-year-old is looking to start the second leg of his country music career. Billy says that he's had interest from record labels in Nashville and that he's looking forward to showing off what he can do with his new voice — and, we imagine, his new ID.