Country singer Clay Walker still gets shivers of anxiety when he recalls the toughest audience he's ever faced.
"Talk about your no-win situations," says Walker, who's had two hit country singles in two tries--"What's It to You" and "Live Until I Die."
"I was the only white contestant in this talent contest at my high school, a predominantly black school in Beaumont, Tex.," he continues. "To make things even tougher, I was singing a country song and I knew most of the kids didn't like country music, because they'd kid me about it."
But Walker won a victory that had a far-reaching effect on his life. "I can still feel the rush I felt when I got a standing ovation from an audience that was all set not to like me," he recalls. "It's a feeling of triumph I can't really describe. But it was an instant addiction. I wanted to experience it again and again. Ever since then a singing career is all I've cared about."
Walker sings with a soulful, George Jones-like twang that make his tales of heartbreak seem even sadder, and there are also echoes of Clint Black and George Strait in his style. But he's not defensive about copycat charges.
"When people say I sound like certain singers, they're right," explains the 24-year-old singer, whose debut album, "Clay Walker," is over the 600,000 sales mark. "When you're young, you fall in love with the styles of singers and you imitate them. That's the way it is. I'd love to be original, but I'm not. I'd hardly call myself a great singer either. I've had to make do with the talent I have--and I've done OK."
As a youngster in Beaumont, Walker wasn't that wild about country music. "It was too sad for me," he recalls. "My all-time favorite artist isn't even country--Lionel Richie."
But Walker's father, who taught him to play guitar when he was 9, steered him toward country music. Walker started knocking around the Southern club circuit when he was 16, but it took seven years for him to get a deal--Giant Records signed him last year.
"It was frustrating that I wasn't getting a contract, but I never doubted I'd eventually get one from somebody, " he says. "That's because my father taught me something else too--to have incredible confidence in myself."
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