Exclusive: Huntley Shares His Path From Park Bench to Spotlight, Leaving Nashville and Life After ‘The Voice’

Huntley, who won season 24 of The Voice, knows how the five remaining contestants feel ahead of finale week. He remembers growing close to the other contestants last season and watching them go home one by one. He remembers missing his family. He remembers being surrounded by talent he found so astounding he never dreamed he’d win. 

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“It’s a very humbling experience being from your little old town and then being around all these talented people,” he told American Songwriter, explaining that when he started the show, he had the smallest social media following of any of his castmates. “I just made sure I was making moments and not trying to overdo it or overthink it. I just wanted to do what I do and trust the process.”

When season 24 ended, Huntley watched his friends drop one by one. Lila Forde won 5th place. Jacquie Roar took 4th. Mara Justine landed 3rd place and Ruby Leigh was runner-up before Huntley was declared the winner.

‘The Voice’ Finale: Tune In

As he plans new music and plots his next career move, a small group of hopeful artists wait to learn their fate on the season 25 finale of The Voice next week. Part one of the finale featuring performances from the final five will air 8/7c Monday on NBC. The winner—Karen Waldrup (Team Dan + Shay), Nathan Chester (Team John Legend), Josh Sanders (Team Reba McEntire), Asher HaVon (Team Reba McEntire) or Bryan Olesen (Team John Legend)—will be revealed in the last episode 9/8c Tuesday on NBC.

Huntley remembers how it felt to hear his name called.

“It was the most validating moment of my life,” Huntley said. “I think people could see how shocked I was when I won.  I did end my year crying in Gwen Stefani’s arms in graffiti with a trophy. The trophy was cool, but the hug from Gwen was better.”

Huntley Left Nashville

Huntley’s journey to The Voice trophy began well before he knew he was on it. His mother wasn’t a singer, but she raised him listening to her favorite artists—Joe Cocker, Bon Jovi, Cher and Blood, Sweat & Tears. He grew up wanting to be a football player and a singer. At 19 years old, he borrowed money from his sister and bought a one-way bus ticket to Nashville. It was February, and he had no place to live, no money, and no plan. Huntley traveled from Florida and didn’t realize how cold it was in Music City in the winter. He slept on a park bench in Centennial Park for six weeks. He was too young to play bars and started busking to earn money for a hostel. 

Huntley got a job as a server at Chappy’s and as soon as he thought he was making financial headway, Nashville flooded and he woke up on an air mattress in six feet of water. The history-making flood struck in 2010 and did $2.3 billion of damage.

“This Is Just Insane to Me”

“It made me feel like I wasn’t supposed to be here,” said Huntley, seated on a downstairs couch in American Songwriter’s office. “It was the last straw for me. The last time I was here in Nashville, I’d left my tail tucked between my legs and very defeated. To come back here right now, this is just insane to me.”

Huntley took the bus to Virginia, where his mother lives, and still calls the state home. Over the years, he auditioned for multiple televised talent searches. Huntley sang his way onto “American Idol” three times but was never shown on television. 

He remembers getting his golden ticket for Hollywood at Heinz Field and meeting the celebrity judges—including his idol, Steven Tyler—in the endzone. Tyler roundly dismissed his talent. 

Huntley’s past experiences made him more skeptical of The Voice.

Huntley Gets the Call

He was in the kitchen making spaghetti for his two kids when the call came. Huntley looked at his screen, saw a California number, and thought it was a telemarketer. He decided to prank the caller. The singer put the call on speaker phone so his then 6-year-old daughter could hear, but Huntley was the one who was surprised.

“They were like, ‘Hey, we just want to let you know you made it through the blind auditions,'” Huntley recalled. 

He paused, looked at his daughter, Stella, and asked the caller to repeat herself. 

“Me and my daughter just started jumping and laughing and crying,” Huntley said. “To be at this point right now, from there, reminds me of why I started doing this.”

He was a few days away from becoming a substitute teacher and said he’d been waiting for that opportunity his entire life. 

Huntley described his flight to Burbank, Ca., to film the blind auditions as “surreal.” As his daughter watched, he sang “She Talks to Angels” by The Black Crowes and received a coveted four-chair turn. The coaches each tried to convince Huntley to choose them, but he brought Stella on stage to pick for him.

Niall Horan is “A Guy That I Just See as a Bud”

She chose Niall Horan. Over the course of the season, Huntley won the audience over with songs including Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive,” Hootie & the Blowfish’s “Hold My Hand,” The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” and a duet with Horan on “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan.

He’d like to release the latter as a single—although he’s never asked Horan to collaborate. 

“I’ve just kept it as a friend basis,” Huntley said. “The dude is one of the busiest individuals in the industry. He’s just a good friend and a guy that I just see as a bud.”

Huntley said, The Voice experience felt like “the best musical summer camp, ever.” He called it uplifting and rejuvenating to meet so many people who dreamed of succeeding in music. 

Of the remaining singers on The Voice this year, Huntley said HaVon was his favorite because he believes the Team Reba singer is being his genuine self. 

“That’s just what I connect with,” Huntley said. “That doesn’t mean he’s better than anybody else.”

Regardless of who wins, the morning-after experience may not be what people expect.

“I had a trophy, but all my friends were gone,” Huntley said, referring to his fellow “Voice” contestants. “I’m just so glad that I created amazing moments with a lot of amazing people on the show. It really just taught me that winning wasn’t the main thing. It was just showing the world myself. I feel like people really just see me, and I don’t have to portray this character. I just get to be myself forever.”

(Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC)

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