‘I still know where I came from’

‘Voice’ win­ner ad­justs to new­found fame as she re­turns to Farm­ing­ton, catch­ing up with friends as well as home­work

The Taos News - - VALLE VISTA - By Olivia Har­low and Robert Nott ohar­[email protected]­i­can.com and [email protected]­i­can.com

Chevel Shep­herd’s re­turn to nor­malcy be­gins with catch­ing up on two months of missed work in English and sci­ence classes at Farm­ing­ton High School.

And do­ing the things teenagers do.

And re­u­nit­ing with friends who know the diminu­tive singer sim­ply as Chevel – and not “The Voice.”

Sure, it’s been a heady time for the 16-year-old from San Juan County, pro­pelled into star­dom in mid-De­cem­ber af­ter win­ning the NBC tele­vi­sion show, a tri­umph capped by a Jan. 1 per­for­mance of “God Bless Amer­ica” at Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham’s in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony.

But Shep­herd, who some­how man­ages to ex­ude a sense of con­fi­dence and calm at the same time, on and off the stage, seems non­plussed by the at­ten­tion – re­gard­less of whether she’s ap­pear­ing be­fore mil­lions, tak­ing part in an in­ter­view or deal­ing with pas­sion­ate fans who just want a selfie with her.

“I’m still the same per­son I was be­fore the show,” she said last week, “and I still know where I came from.”

That hap­pens to be tiny La Plata, out­side Farm­ing­ton, where Shep­herd said she was con­stantly wan­der­ing her fam­ily’s three acres of land, tend­ing to “un­der the hood work” on cars and, of course, singing “ev­ery chance I got.”

To­day, she has a bright and cre­atively chal­leng­ing fu­ture: She’s got a record al­bum of orig­i­nal coun­try tunes to record with Kelly Clark­son – her former men­tor on “The Voice” and the first win­ner of “Amer­i­can Idol” in 2002 – as well as a free, thank-you con­cert to ar­range for fans in her home­town at the end of the month.

Although only five orig­i­nal Top 40 songs have come to fruition by win­ners of “The Voice” be­tween 2011 and

2018, ac­cord­ing to Huf­fPost, Shep­herd said she’s op­ti­mistic about what lies ahead.

“I’m fi­nally liv­ing out my dream,” she said.

If noth­ing else, her tal­ent takes oth­ers to a dreamy place.

For a few min­utes, as Shep­herd per­formed “God Bless Amer­ica” a cap­pella at Lu­jan Gr­isham’s in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony Tues­day (Jan. 1), you might have thought the crowd had come to see her.

An assem­bly of more than

1,200 stood al­most at at­ten­tion as Shep­herd, the 15th win­ner of “The Voice,” per­formed the cen­tury-old tune, penned by Irv­ing Berlin as a pa­tri­otic homage to World War I. She added a coun­try-west­ern twang to her per­for­mance, im­bu­ing the lines –”from the moun­tains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam” – with a raw, down-home ap­proach that feels al­most like her sig­na­ture.

It wasn’t hard to see – or rather, hear – why mil­lions of fans and record­ing-in­dus­try heavy­weights were so taken with her dur­ing her run on “The Voice.”

Stand­ing be­hind Shep­herd dur­ing the per­for­mance, Lu­jan Gr­isham’s jaw dropped open and then curved into a smile.

“She em­bod­ies what I’m talk­ing about when it comes to cul­ti­vat­ing young tal­ent,” the gover­nor said sev­eral days af­ter the per­for­mance. “She has such tal­ent. She’s show­ing the whole coun­try who we are here in New Mex­ico.”

Shep­herd, named the show’s win­ner Dec. 18, called per­form­ing be­fore a new gover­nor in her home state “awe­some, ex­cit­ing.”

“I can feel the sup­port and love from the New Mex­i­cans around me,” she said.

But if Shep­herd is thrilled to re­gain a sense of her life be­fore “The Voice,” she ac­knowl­edges things won’t re­ally be the same.

Nearly a year af­ter she first au­di­tioned for “The Voice” in Fe­bru­ary, Shep­herd said she can’t go any­where with­out fans re­quest­ing pho­tos or au­to­graphs.

Her mother, Julie Shep­herd, said the fam­ily’s still ad­just­ing to their youngest child’s star­dom.

“We’re still kinda pro­cess­ing it,” she said. “See­ing her on TV and in Peo­ple mag­a­zine ... It seems like yes­ter­day she was watch­ing ‘The Voice,’ and here she is win­ning it.”

Her dad, Robert “Ga­tor” Shep­herd, said it’s been a “roller-coaster ride, and we’re hang­ing on.” Trivia note: the Florida-born Shep­herd got his nick­name for car­ry­ing baby al­li­ga­tors around in his pock­ets when he was a kid.

How­ever, he wasn’t at all sur­prised to see his daugh­ter win.

“I knew she was gonna be a star, so she had to have a cool name,” he said with a broad smile.

Gabriela Cam­pos/New Mex­i­can file photo

Chevel Shep­herd of Farm­ing­ton, the 16-year-old win­ner of NBC’s “The Voice,” sings “God Bless Amer­ica” as the clos­ing song for Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham’s in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony Jan. 1 at the Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

Gabriela Cam­pos/New Mex­i­can file pho­tos

Chevel Shep­erd of Farm­ing­ton, the 16-year-old win­ner of NBC’s “The Voice,” sings “God Bless Amer­ica” as the clos­ing song for Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham’s in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony last week at the Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. “She em­bod­ies what I’m talk­ing about when it comes to cul­ti­vat­ing young tal­ent,” the gover­nor said sev­eral days af­ter the per­for­mance. “She has such tal­ent. She’s show­ing the whole coun­try who we are here in New Mex­ico.”

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