After months of competition, Todd O’Neill was announced as the winner of Nash Next 2016 last night (Oct. 25) during the grand finale held at Mercy Lounge in Nashville.
Big Machine Label Group and Cumulus Media joined forces in July 2016 to find America’s new country star. Aspiring artists from all over the country vied for the top prize of a major-label record deal with Big Machine Label Group as well as substantial radio play on Cumulus radio stations nationwide.
With close to 1,000 entrants, the field was cut down to 10 finalists from different radio markets across the country. The NASH Next finale saw all 10 of these contestants—Skylar Geer, Murphy’s Ford, Gregor Ross, Ashley Jordan, Alexis Gomez, The Young Fables, Spinn, Trey Teem, Billy Shaw Jr. Band and Todd O’Neill—getting their shot to perform one song for judges Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn; Scott Borchetta, BMLG president; Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts; and country singer and The Voice winner Danielle Bradbery.
Following an evening of performances that allowed the artists to show off their talents, the judges deliberated backstage before announcing that Todd O’Neill was the Nash Next 2016 winner. The crowd, filled with family and friends, erupted with cheers.
“Thank you for supporting me all these years,” Todd exclaimed. “I have been trucking on and working hard—three, four-hours sets. I feed off of them. They inspire me every night I come out. I just feel so blessed.”
The decision did not come easy. The judges made it clear that it was a tough call due to the amount of talent stepping up to the stage. But there were a few things that stood out about Todd, leading the judges award him with the grand prize.
“One of the things that I was looking for for Big Machine Label Group was individuality and just really connecting and owning the stage presence,” revealed Scott. “When you can sing like [Todd] sings for three or four hours a night, this is going to be a fun record to make because we’re gonna do a big song here and he’s going to deliver a great record.”
“This is really where the rubber meets the road,” Kix added. “It was great to see these acts get up here and really hanging out. Everybody felt really professional, there was nobody here that didn’t play a lot of gigs and pay their dues. I think it really gave credibility to what’s going on here and [Todd] should be really proud that he rose to the top. It was a tough decision backstage. There was a lot of discussion because there was a lot of great talent here.”
The importance of the night was not lost on Todd. He went from performing four-hour sets with multiple songs to having one shot—one song to sing in front of Kix, Jay, Scott and Danielle that would determine his country music fate.
“Let me tell you, the most nerve-wracking thing for me was knowing that one song could change your life,” said Todd. “I put everything I had into that one song—should I play guitar, should I not play guitar, should I take my jacket off, should I do this that and the other? I came out and tried to give it everything I had. I’ve been singing all my life. Humming along to Merle Haggard—anything from Merle Haggard to Huey Lewis. I was really too shy as a kid to come out as a singer. But getting out there doing it—the instant that I got onstage and got feedback from the audience and the crowd there that night I knew—it was an addiction to me. It’s not work for me at all. I do so many dates a year and I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Remember that name: Todd O’Neill. You’ll be hearing him on your radio as he hits the studio with producer Jay DeMarcus. Congratulations, Todd!
photo by Aisha Shehu Kaikai/Cumulus Media
pictured, from left: Scott Borchetta, Todd O’Neill and Mike McVay, senior VP Cumulus programming