By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
‘The Voice’ winner shares insights on his career, the impact of COVID, his faith and his future wedding
NASHVILLE – One year ago today, Jake Hoot woke up and realized his world had changed forever. UCBJ recently sat down exclusively with Hoot to discuss how winning “The Voice” has impacted his life over the past year.
Hoot says when he stepped on that California stage, he never expected to hear his name called as the winner. But since winning that acclaimed title, Hoot has lived a year that most people could only dream of, with big changes in both his personal and professional life.
The biggest change in Hoot’s life has been the notoriety that he has received from winning the show. It seems as if he cannot go anywhere these days without being recognized.
“I didn’t realize how many people watched the show,” Hoot said. “Whether we’re going to church, whether we’re traveling, whether we’re in a different state playing a show, it just blows me away the fact that so many people know who I am.”
What Hoot couldn’t imagine was that notoriety would extend internationally and even reach the small islands of South America.
Hoot has often spoken of his love for missions and was able to return to Nicaragua in March on another mission trip.
“We actually went to an island named Corn Island, and the people in Nicaragua and Managua, they had heard of me,” Hoot said. “Surprisingly, on Corn Island it’s primarily Spanish speaking people, but they love country music.”
According to Hoot, the people of Corn Island often blast older country music, such as Alan Jackson, George Strait and George Jones, from their little store fronts and radios, but he was surprised to hear his songs being included in the mix.
“Walking down and hearing people play a YouTube video of Jake Hoot on Corn Island, Nicaragua was something that I won’t easily forget,” he said.
Even with his stardom, he has remained humble and credits the show and God with opening a lot of new doors for him.
Hoot never expected the reception that he would receive from his hometown of Cookeville upon his return from the show. Trips to Walmart and dining out were often interrupted by fans who stopped to tell him how happy they were for him and to ask for a picture with him to share on social media, but Hoot always had time for “his people.”
“Hoot at the Hoop” was another door that opened as a result of the show. Hoot performed a free concert for local fans and was surprised when another local music success story, Judah Akers of Judah and the Lion, and the country group Lonestar came to show support and to celebrate his success.
When Hoot returned from California, he had immediately returned to work at the radio station. He credits the station with being extremely supportive and allowing him to split his time between his “regular job” and his musical ambitions.
Occasionally, his working at the station and his musical ambitions would come together. One such time was when he was asked to briefly join local radio personality Philip Gibbons in the studio before being surprised live and on air by Jamie Dailey of the bluegrass duo Dailey and Vincent with an invitation to play the Grand Ole Opry.
Hoot was not just playing these legendary venues, he was making connections that he will forever treasure.
“From Dean (Sams) from Lonestar who came out to play the ‘Hoot at the Hoop’ concert to Jamie Dailey from Dailey and Vincent, who invited me to play the Opry, and Mark Wills, who there the first night I played the Opry, it just opened so many doors that I don’t know would have been opened otherwise,” said Hoot.
“Friendships, co-writes and songs done together and stuff like that. Even though the world has shut down, I’ve been very blessed to meet and rub shoulders with a lot of really incredible musicians and incredible people,” he added.
Hoot reminisced that there were times when he would be away doing music stuff for two weeks and return to his job for a couple of days before leaving again. It wasn’t long before he realized that he needed to take the next step and move to Nashville to pursue music full time. So, in March, he made the decision to step away from the radio station that had been his work home for several years.
Musical plans rocked by COVID
Not long after he settled in Nashville, the town basically shut down. Venues were closed and live music came to a screeching halt.
Since he couldn’t play live, Hoot focused on writing new material so that he would be ready when the world was. Co-writing, however, presented new challenges thanks to COVID, but Hoot embraced the struggle.
“We’ve been doing Zoom writes and stuff like that,” said Hoot. “I have a ton of content that I’m excited for everyone to hear. It’s changed the game a little bit, but it’s been a blessing in disguise.”
According to Hoot, one of the biggest songs on the new album – probably the biggest song on the new album – was written over a Zoom write.
“It’s different because I love being in person with people,” he shared. “I’m a people person. I love hugging, shaking hands and looking people in the eye, so it’s been an adjustment for me, but thank God for technology and thank God for FaceTime, Zoom and whatever else somebody uses, because I’m sure there’s going to be a ton of songs that were written over Zoom. It makes it a little more complicated, but still doable.”
New album set to debut
Hoot has a new album set to debut Jan. 15. Although he was signed to a recording contract after winning “The Voice,” he said he was blessed to have gotten out of the contract early on.
By going independent, he lost the marketing support that a big label provides, but he was able to retain complete creative control over the project.
“We are hoping, in the near future, we’ll be able to work out a deal with a label or whatever, but as of right now, we’re enjoying creating who we are and branding ourselves and having that control to say ‘this is who Jake Hoot is’ and ‘this is what his music sounds like’ and to go from there,” he said.
Releasing an album as an independent is a much bigger risk for an artist.
“You are fronting the bill for everything,” he said. “You are making the decisions. On this project that we’re releasing in January, I have so many incredible brilliant minds that have come together to make it possible. But at the end of the day, I have the final say.”
He credits his team from Deluge Management to his publicist, Chelsea Dartez at C2 Media, with dropping a lot of what they were doing to make things happen.
“Some big things are coming up on this album and around the time of the release, it’s been a lot of manpower on our part – a lot of calling and emailing and texting and hair turning gray, and then pulling those gray hairs out,” Hoot reflected.
With this album, Hoot got a crash course in the recording industry.
“It’s just a lot that you don’t realize goes into a project – in writing a song and getting it recorded and produced and mastered – and then look at doing music videos and everything else,” said Hoot. “You don’t realize how much work goes into it until you are in the middle of it. It’s a super learning experience, and I’m excited for everybody to hear what we’ve been doing.”
An EP release party is set for January at Red Silo in Cookeville. A showcase is planned with Hoot and the band playing the songs from the album.
“We were talking about where we wanted to do one of these parties, and I said Red Silo has to be at the top of the list,” Hoot said. “There’s been so many huge moments for me there. There’s Mark and Jim and Brian and April – everybody there – they’re just family.”
After the Jan. 11 launch party was announced on Facebook, it sold out in minutes, prompting Hoot to add a second night, Jan. 12. Tickets are still available for the second show here.
“I really do appreciate anybody and everybody who’s bought tickets,” he said. “I know tickets for the first night sold out super quick. I’m excited about night number two. You get to come out, and for part of your ticket price, you get some Hoot swag, you get a copy of the EP, and you get to hear all the songs before anybody else. We’re super excited and looking forward to it.”
The lead-off single of his new EP is “La Bamba.” Hoot says he wanted to play it on “The Voice” as one of his songs but got shut down in a nice way by the music director on the show.
“Between me and the producer and his vision of the song, it turned out incredible,” Hoot added.
Hoot brought back Alejandro Medina from Third Lion Productions who directed his videos for “Tennessee Strong” and “Best Job I Ever Had” to do the video.
“The way he did this video was just so fun and energetic; everything just turned out a lot better than I thought it would,” Hoot raved.
Missions and sharing his faith
Hoot has made no secret of his faith and his desire to help people through mission work. As the child of full-time missionaries, Hoot spent much of his youth in the Dominican Republic helping his parents minister to the people there.
After seeing the need in Nicaragua, Hoot took it up on himself to raise money to purchase a bus that could be used in ministry there. Being on “The Voice” presented Hoot with an opportunity to expand the reach of his collection by selling bracelets and taking donations.
“We actually raised enough money between the bracelet sales, and other people who are giving money, to buy two buses,” said Hoot. “They bought the one bus that we were looking at buying, and then they were able to afford to buy another bus – a smaller bus – for more remote villages that the big bus can’t fit into. They were very, very grateful for everything.”
The response from his friends and fans amazed Hoot.
“I’m still very just blown away,” he said. “I think we may do another kind of missions drive or something before too long, whatever it may be, just to raise money to help other people.”
Hoot’s newfound fame has given him a chance to share his faith with a new audience.
He shared that until recently he felt, like many others do, that entertainers should only use their platform to entertain and not to express their views, political statements or whatever. Recently he had an epiphany that changed his opinion.
“I think it was a couple months ago that I just had this realization that God has placed these people in these positions to influence people and hopefully you get people that are trying to influence for good. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people that don’t,” he said.
Although Hoot is fairly comfortable doing mission work, using music as a platform for his faith was a stretch, but one he felt led to follow.
“I just had this realization that there’s so many people that thought enough of me on ‘The Voice’ to vote for me and push me through, and you know completely changed my life. I wonder how many of those people either haven’t been exposed to God, the Bible, church and everything else. And even the people that have, but have kind of gone a different way, you know how refreshing it could be and how much peace it could bring somebody just to remind people of that,” he said.
After remembering the impact that the song “God is So Good” had on people, old and young alike, Hoot added the song to his concerts.
“It’s usually my closer at every show,” he said. “It just blows me away that people you would ever even dream that would like that song are over there singing it. Or they come up to you afterwards and say ‘I remember singing that it at my high school’ or ‘I remember singing that in Sunday school,’ and these people are in their 40s and 50s. So, it’s just been really special that God is giving me a platform and then given me the courage to step out of my comfort zone and openly talk about God. Just seeing how people respond to it, and how people appreciate it, has been really special.”
The whirlwind romance that wasn’t
Hoot’s personal life has been just as exciting as his professional one this year. His fiancée, Brittney Hoyt, and their upcoming wedding, have left many of his fans curious about the woman who has stolen Hoot’s heart.
“We met seven years ago,” he said. “We were singing at our friends’ wedding, and we had no idea who each other was at the time. She was living in California; I was going to Tennessee Tech.
“We were sending voice memos back and forth to each other to practice the song because we had to sing a duet, and we met that night at the rehearsal. We practiced it, and we sang it for the wedding and went our separate ways,” he said.
During the next few years, Hoot married, became a father, and went through a painful divorce. After his divorce, a friend invited him to go on a mission trip to Nicaragua to focus on others instead of himself. Hoot was surprised to discover that his former duet partner, Hoyt, was the nurse who had organized the trip.
Although there was a spark there, the timing wasn’t right, and they once again went their separate ways at the end of the trip. Hoyt ended up later relocating to Nashville, and their friendship continued with them talking a little bit here and there.
“There’s a song on my new album called ‘Love out of Time,’ about a love misplaced in time, and it was written around that time that all this was going on. So, we tried, and nothing ever happened, so we went our separate ways again,” Hoot shared.
Although both had relationships over the years, Hoot and Hoyt reconnected when he went on the mission trip in March of this year.
“Brittany and I reconnected down there. We just hit it off,” he said. “We came back, and we waited a little bit, and then we started dating. When it’s right, it’s right. Those feelings that I had had for her years prior when it wasn’t the right time, those quickly came back. We started dating and the rest is history.”
The couple who had just begun dating when the COVID restrictions were beginning to be imposed had no idea the effect that the virus was going to have on their relationship.
“Thanks to COVID, we were quarantined together, so we got to know each other really quick and had just an incredible time,” Hoot said.
It wasn’t long before Hoot knew that what he had felt all those years ago was something real that would last.
“She’s the one that I want to spend the rest my life with,” he said. “She’s great with Macy. It was just all in God’s timing, just that right moment. She’s a good, godly girl and I look forward to doing missions and stuff with her when the world opens back up. It’s just been incredible. She’s so sweet, and everybody who meets her sees how incredible she is, and how much she just loves people. I’m super excited for the future,” he gushed.
The couple has set a March 7 wedding date. The location is quiet for now.
“Trying to release an album, buy a house, plan a wedding and everything else that comes with it all has been a little stressful and a little chaotic. We’ve been traveling a lot but it’s a blast and we’re having a good time with it,” he said.
His relationship with Kelly
People often ask Hoot about his friendship with his “Voice” coach Kelly Clarkson. He stresses that out of all the coaches, she goes above and beyond anybody else to help out with her people and take care of her people. For Hoot, her help didn’t end when the show did.
“She has been instrumental in a lot of things that have happened for me,” he said. “She’s reached out a lot. We text back and forth here and there. She also gets on phone calls, and we discuss things.”
Hoot added, “We definitely have a good working relationship. She’s helped out with a lot and given me really good advice and has also lined up a lot of things. I’m excited for working with her in the future. She’s been great.”
A final word for his fans
“I just want to tell everybody ‘thank you,’” he said. “I know life is kind of taking a different route (COVID) than what everybody expected. As far as my music career and everything we had going on, it kind of pumped the brakes a little bit, and I had to change course and make some stuff happen. Through all of that, everybody has just been incredible – so uplifting, so encouraging. I can’t tell everybody ‘thank you’ enough.
“I can’t wait to see everybody on the 11th and 12th at the showcase, so get your tickets, and I will see you there very soon. I hope everybody has a Merry Christmas, and I love everybody,” he added.