Chevel Shepherd aims for career as country music star

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FARMINGTON — It would be fair to say that life for 16-year-old Chevel Shepherd has changed dramatically over the last several hours.

On Monday night, the Farmington High School junior appeared on an episode of the NBC program "The Voice," wowing a panel of coaches that included Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton and Jennifer Hudson with her cover of "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry. Shepherd's performance was so well received she was chosen to become a member of Team Clarkson and will advance to the program's "battle rounds" later this season.

Shepherd recorded the episode in June, but was restricted from telling anyone about the results until it aired. That made for a very long wait, she said this afternoon.

"It was so hard to keep it a secret," she said.

Shepherd and her family were joined Monday night by some of her friends from school for a watch party when her episode of "The Voice" finally aired. The atmosphere was jubilant, she said, and everyone celebrated afterward with cake.

"Everyone started screaming and crying," she said. "There were so many emotions."

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By today, Shepherd's new status as a celebrity already had begun to make itself felt. In addition to gaining lots of new followers on her social media platforms, she was inundated with FHS classmates wanting to get a photo with her.

"It's crazy," she said. "People are pulling up to our house asking to meet me."

Shepherd said she has received no formal voice training, but she grew up in a household in which her older sister and mother were always singing. She's been a fan of "The Voice" since she was 8 years old and said it's her favorite of all the talent competition programs on TV because it seems to be less about appearance and more about ability.

"They actually listen to your voice," she said.

Watching herself on TV was a surreal experience, she noted, explaining that she had forgotten much of what it was like. Just a few moments into her performance, Clarkson was comparing the diminutive Farmington singer to country legend Dolly Parton. Clarkson hit her button and spun her chair to face Shepherd, signifying she approved of her performance and was interested in having her join her team for a later round. As Shepherd continued singing, Shelton followed suit, as did Hudson.

"I don't know how I kept a straight face" when Clarkson spun her chair to face her, Shepherd said. "I kept singing, but I was just so super happy and so excited."

Shepherd said she chose to sing "If I Die Young" because she was comfortable with it, but also because it has a lot of personal meeting for her. She recounted how a close family friend in his late teens recently died of cancer, and when planning his funeral, he asked Shepherd to perform the tune at his service.

"It's so pure," she said. "It's such a beautiful song."

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By the time she finished, Shepherd had her choice of which team to join. She chose to join Team Clarkson, meaning that Clarkson will mentor her as the season proceeds.

Shepherd began the process of auditioning for the program in February 2017, so Monday night's airing of her episode was the highlight of what already has been a lengthy process. But Shepherd understands this could be only the beginning, perhaps launching her into a career as a professional singer.

That's a path she's been eager to follow her whole life. Shepherd said she's been singing since she was 2 years old and recalled how she used to belt out tunes while sitting in a shopping cart as her mother pushed her down the aisles at Walmart. It never took long, she said, before she had a crowd of people following her through the store.

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Since then, Shepherd has advanced to singing at local talent shows and rodeos, as well as in church. Her performance on "The Voice" is by far the most prominent gig of her career, but she hopes it leads to even bigger moments.

"I'd like to perform at the CMA awards and at the Grand Ole Opry," she said. "I want to have a country career."

But first Shepherd will pursue victory on "The Voice" An NBC spokeswoman said one more week of blind auditions will air, then the battle rounds will begin. She said Shepherd could appear in any of those episodes.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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