After I won Sing for the World in 2009, I used my platform to reach out to other undiscovered artists, many of which also appeared on the program, to start a new record label. I called it Little Boy Records, after a phrase I used after my third NASCAR title: "As I close, I'll share with you something Brenda told me many times: no matter what else I do, or even how old I am, I'll always be her little boy."
These artists combined musical innovation with best-selling record sales. More importantly, it marked the first time when a reality competition winner successfully nurtured other contestants.
I have already touched on Brittany L. Spears in this earlier post. In addition, I signed five other singing acts. There is so much information I learned from them that I will divide it into two posts.
Here's the first one:
- "The Real" Blondie: Eliza Doolittle Battershell was an honors student and senior-class president in high school when she auditioned for the U.S. version of SFTW. Blondie (who modified her stage name to distinguish from the new-wave band of the same name) electrified crowds and audiences alike with her piano-playing repertoire; imagine someone playing Beethoven one moment and Billy Joel the next. She placed second to me in the U.S. competition. After she signed, her debut album sold over 4 million albums and had two number one songs, "My Butterfly" and a cover of "Try to Remember." Today, Battershell lives happily with her parents and brothers, Brick and Boo, near Memphis, TN. Blondie says the greatest thing she has discovered since moving into Heaven is a love for horses. (All three are named for literary characters: Eliza Doolittle was in My Fair Lady, Brick Pollitt was in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Boo Radley was in To Kill a Mockingbird. "Blondie" came from the comic-strip heroine her parents loved.)
- Bird & Fly: Kimberly "ButtaFly" Wimberly and R. Brightful Birdsong, Jr. auditioned separately. Wimberly was probably the first poetry-slam artist ever to appear on major network TV, while Birdsong came aboard with R&B and gospel influences. They were brought together by Matt Pinfield, one of the show's judges (and former veejay on MTV, back when the network had those things) and evolved into the first full-time R&B duets group on any major label in the U.S. They overcame a surprisingly early elimination from SFTW to sell over 1.5 million copies and crossed over successfully. Now, Wimberly and Birdsong live with their respective families in Georgia and live a lifestyle they call "blackneck." As one would guess, they live a Southern rural lifestyle more associated with their white counterparts. They have been featured on the TV show Blacknecks, along with the Plumpkins (mentioned here).
- Blinky Blink: Born Brandon Van Blankenstein in Pomona, CA, he lived a suburban life at home, but also visited his aunt and uncle in a nearby town where they owned a dairy farm. The day they had to sell to make room for developers was, he told me once, "one of the saddest days of his life." To compensate, he learned about Appalachian music and dancing and became a fan of the latter, known as "clogging." As time progressed, he worked rap music into his act and became a truly unique entertainer. Blink (who received permission from a retired rapper to use that stage name) was the third-place finisher in the U.S. competition in the year I won. He now has returned to the aunt and uncle's farm which has been restored. It's located in Mira Loma, a few miles east of where he grew up. In fact, Blink told me that the farm is nearly double the size it was before and that his father, mother, and grandparents of his father also live there now. Blink also added that he planned to run for California, in the grand tradition of former governors Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, the state has been broken up by post-Rapture political circumstances and now belongs to three new countries. (I wouldn't have been surprised if he had won the election if the state had stayed together.)