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We’re all kinds of obsessed with reality TV singing competitions. There’s something special about cheering for your hometown favorite as she performs a heartwarming rendition of Whitey Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” That’s the go-to song for many contestants, even Jennifer Hudson took a crack at it on American Idol.
By the time Evvie McKinney emerged as the season one winner of The Four: Battle Stardom in 2018, she’d auditioned for numerous shows, including AI, but (surprisingly) her powerful pipes didn’t make the cut.
“A family friend told me about The Four, a new singing competition that stars P. Diddy, Meghan Trainor and DJ Khaled,” McKinney says in a warm southern accent. “I tried out for American Idol, The Voice, and X Factor throughout high school. So I was biased when it came to competition shows because I’m a Black girl. I’m from Memphis, Tennessee and I sing old songs.”
On The Four, she delivered moving interpretations of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Proud Mary” and “I Never Loved a Man The Way I Loved You,” which aren’t typical tunes for a singing competition eager to produce the next pop star. Little did Diddy and company know that McKinney had been belting the lyrics about a certain no-good lying heartbreaker since she was five years old.
Although the then 20-year-old was hesitant about auditioning for The Four, the opportunity slid into her inbox the same day she received a pink slip. While McKinney was no stranger to performing with bands and gospel choirs, she wasn’t familiar with the painful wounds of a budget cut. After two and half months on tour, the director announced that he couldn’t afford any more singers and she suddenly out of work. Her bank account dipped to negative digits and even though she was hurt and unsure of her next move, McKinney held fast to her faith and “claimed the blessings of 2018.”
From the moment she stepped on The Four’s stage primed to steal one of the singer’s seats, she visibly wowed the judges, especially Trainor, by killing Andra’s Day’s “Rise Up” anthem. Every time McKinney opened her mouth, her competitors were shook. And it wasn’t just her vocals, but her energetic stage presence. “Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always had this very outgoing flamboyant, vivacious personality. People would tell me when I was five and six years old that when I walk into a room, my smile would bring so much light,” says the 23-year-old. “My performances come from a place of passion and when you’re acting in your gifts and when you’re moving in your gifts, you’re living in your gifts. You can have talent to build a house, but a gift is God given.”
Singing is McKinney’s gift, but it’s also in her DNA. The youngest of seven children said her late father sang gospel, blues and R&B, played the piano and released an album. And all of her siblings have the gift of song. But let’s not forget that she was raised in the Home of the Blues and the birthplace of rock ’n roll, so McKinney and her siblings were bred on a steady diet of “good food and good music.”
McKinney is quick to rattle off the names of Tennessee titans—B.B. King, Turner and Aretha Franklin—whose shoulders she stands on. And now it’s her turn to add to The Volunteer State’s rich musical legacy.
McKinney’s first single “Bring the Whole Hood” (co-written with Trainor) is an autobiographical tribute to her family and her community. “Nobody in the hood that I grew up in never told me that being a professional singer was something that couldn’t happen—or that it wasn’t attainable. They always supported me,” says McKinney about the inspo for the catchy bop. “The bridge says, ‘when I make it, we make it’ and I got that idea from the scripture, when one is blessed we’re all blessed. And that’s just the reality of things.”
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