Growing up in the North Carolina mountains, Benton Blount never picked up a guitar or a microphone, much less played a tune. At age 18, his music pastor snuck a microphone up to his mouth and to his and everyone's amazement, a beautiful voice was pouring out. Thus, sparking Benton's passion for singing and writing songs.
The Season 10 airing of NBC's America's Got Talent was a triumphant moment for singer-songwriter Benton Blount, who sailed through the audition round with the enthusiastic support of all four of the show's celebrity judges. For country radio, it may have served as a reminder of a talented artist who once slipped through the cracks of the Nashville system.
After AGT producers saw a video of Blount performing, he got the chance to initially audition for them via Skype, where he took a risk by playing an original song he wrote called "Remember." He explains, "It was the song that actually brought me to Nashville the first time when I signed my record deal, and it's a song that's really close to me. So I knew that [by] singing it they would see exactly who I was as an artist, even if that wouldn't be the song they'd want me to play on the show." From there, he was brought to New Jersey to play for the judges and a live audience in the performance of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" viewers saw on July 7.
He describes the backstage scene at the show as carnival-like, with hundreds of performers of all types waiting to audition in a holding room. "The difference between a singing competition and this is that in singing you're up against other singers, so you know what to expect and what to plan for," he says. "I walked into, basically … it looked like a backstage area of a circus, because you had contortionists doing their routines, and guys juggling and guys practicing magic, and then you've got me walking in with a guitar like, 'I'm here to sing'.
"I was intimidated," he continues. "I looked around the room for singers and musicians, because I wanted to be around somebody that I at least had some common ground with. I quickly found a guy who was sitting there with no guitar or nothing, but I could tell he was a musician because he had the same 'holy cow' face that I had on."
When he finally got in front of the judges, Blount explained that he was a full-time musician and a stay-at-home dad to 2-year-old son Jaxon. But he knew he had the surprise factor on his side, noting that as a biracial, bald, bearded and heavily tattooed man, he doesn't look the part of a typical country singer.
"Everybody lost their minds because I walked out in a tight T-shirt, and I have tattoos and a beard and bald head and a wallet chain," he says. "I think they thought I was going out to play a rock'n'roll song. So the image definitely didn't match the job title at all. That's what made me unique, I think."
When he started singing, says Blount, he couldn't tell whether it was going to go well or not, "but the second line of the song was when I really project. I would be willing to put money on the fact that out of the male vocalists in country music right now, I'm probably louder than almost every one of them. So when I hit that note it literally went from quiet, 'Let's figure this guy out,' to standing ovation." From there, he says, the audience "proceeded to sing every word of the song with me until the end."
In his comments afterward, Blount says judge Howard Stern questioned why the country music industry hadn't given him a chance. That's something the artist himself has long wondered about too.
While his initial Nashville label experience ended badly, Blount is anything but bitter, saying, "I love everything about Nashville, even the business side of it, as dirty as it can get … I've seen way too many people get overly jaded from an experience [there,] and it kind of cost them their career. I try to avoid that.
On the show, he also downplays his experience in Music City. "I didn't want to paint a negative picture about it," he explains. "The producers know the story, but as far as me sharing it with the public onstage, I didn't really feel like it was the right time just to take the hammer out and say, 'I just got the crap kicked out of me for no reason in Nashville, and they never really gave me a chance after that point.' "
But his success on the show, says Blount, confirms "what my heart and my mind has already told me, that … the people who even toyed around with the idea of signing me to a [Nashville label] deal and then walked away for some reason missed out on something. It's been a mission of mine ever since then to prove them wrong. This is my way of doing it without having to go through the hoops."
Benton Blount's audition in Episode 1007 consisted of singing Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" while playing the guitar. Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, Mel B, and Howie Mandel all voted "Yes," sending Benton to the Judge Cuts round.
Benton Blount's Judge Cuts performance in Episode 1010 consisted of singing Dolly Parton's "Jolene" while playing the guitar. Benton's performance was strong enough for the judges to send him to the Quarterfinals instead of Brittney Allen and Johnny Shelton.
Benton Blount's Week 1 Quarterfinals performance in Episode 1012 consisted of singing A Great Big World's "Say Something (I'm Giving Up On You)" while playing the guitar, this time with a backing band. Benton received enough votes to be sent to the Semifinals in Episode 1013 instead of Vita Radionova.
Benton Blount's Week 1 Semifinals performance in Episode 1018 consisted of singing Rachel Platten's "Fight Song" while playing the guitar. Benton finished in fourth, fifth, or sixth place in America's Vote. In the Dunkin' Save, he received more online votes than both Samantha Johnson and The CraigLewis Band, sending Benton to the Finals in Episode 1019.
For the finale in Episode 1023, Benton Blount sang "Fight Song" with Rachel Platten. Benton did not receive enough votes to be included in the Top 5, eliminating him from the competition instead of The CraigLewis Band.