‘Voice’ winner adjusts to newfound fame as she returns to New Mexico

January 6, 2019

Chevel Shepherd’s return to normalcy begins with catching up on two months of missed work in English and science classes at Farmington High School.

And doing the things teenagers do.

And reuniting with friends who know the diminutive singer simply as Chevel — and not “The Voice.”

Sure, it’s been a heady time for the 16-year-old from San Juan County, propelled into stardom in mid-December after winning the NBC television show, a triumph capped by Tuesday’s performance of “God Bless America” at Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s inauguration ceremony.

But Shepherd, who somehow manages to exude a sense of confidence and calm at the same time, on and off the stage, seems nonplussed by the attention — regardless of whether she’s appearing before millions, taking part in an interview or dealing with passionate fans who just want a selfie with her.

“I’m still the same person I was before the show,” she said last week, “and I still know where I came from.”

That happens to be tiny La Plata, outside Farmington, where Shepherd said she was constantly wandering her family’s 3 acres of land, tending to “under the hood work” on cars and, of course, singing “every chance I got.”

Today, she has a bright and creatively challenging future: She’s got a record album of original country tunes to record with Kelly Clarkson — her former mentor on The Voice and the first winner of American Idol in 2002 — as well as a free, thank-you concert to arrange for fans in her hometown at the end of the month.

Although only five original Top 40 songs have come to fruition by winners of The Voice between 2011 and 2018, according to HuffPost, Shepherd said she’s optimistic about what lies ahead.

“I’m finally living out my dream,” she said.

If nothing else, her talent takes others to a dreamy place.

For a few minutes, as Shepherd performed “God Bless America” a capella at Lujan Grisham’s inauguration ceremony Tuesday, you might have thought the crowd had come to see her.

An assembly of more than 1,200 stood almost at attention as Shepherd, the 15th winner of The Voice, performed the century-old tune, penned by Irving Berlin as a patriotic homage to World War I. She added a country-western twang to her performance, imbuing the lines —“from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam” — with a raw, down-home approach that feels almost like her signature.

It wasn’t hard to see — or rather, hear — why millions of fans and recording-industry heavyweights were so taken with her during her run on The Voice.

Standing behind Shepherd during the performance, Lujan Grisham’s jaw dropped open and then curved into a smile.

“She embodies what I’m talking about when it comes to cultivating young talent,” the governor said several days after the performance. “She has such talent. She’s showing the whole country who we are here in New Mexico.”

Shepherd, named the show’s winner Dec. 18, called performing before a new governor in her home state “awesome, exciting.”

“I can feel the support and love from the New Mexicans around me,” she said.

But if Shepherd’s thrilled to regain a sense of her life before The Voice, she acknowledges things won’t really be the same.

Nearly a year after she first auditioned for The Voice in February, Shepherd said she can’t go anywhere without fans requesting photos or autographs.

Her mother, Julie Shepherd, said the family’s still adjusting to their youngest child’s stardom.

“We’re still kinda processing it,” she said. “Seeing her on TV and in People magazine. … It seems like yesterday she was watching The Voice, and here she is winning it.”

Her dad, Robert “Gator” Shepherd, said it’s been a “roller-coaster ride, and we’re hanging on.” Trivia note: the Florida-born Shepherd got his nickname for carrying baby alligators around in his pockets when he was a kid.

However, he wasn’t at all surprised to see his daughter win.

“I knew she was gonna be a star, so she had to have a cool name,” he said with a broad smile.

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