When Sundance Head was announced as the winner of NBC’s “The Voice” in December 2016, he dissolved into tears as his wife and children joined him onstage. Confetti rained down as the audience, and celebrity coaches cheered. For the winner of $100,000 and a record deal, there was a lot to celebrate.
At the same time, even Head’s coach, country superstar Blake Shelton, acknowledged winning a reality competition show has its own set of challenges. Specifically that “The Voice,” which returned for its 16th season this week, has trouble launching stars once they leave the show.
“I want to personally issue a challenge to Universal Records,” Shelton said at a news conference after the finale, name-checking the label partner of “The Voice” that offers a recording contract to the winners. “We need to make a record and put the work behind it that he deserves.”
As Head soon discovered, things could get complicated. Two decades into the reality TV boom, contestants from all types of shows have learned winning does not necessarily guarantee success, particularly when you are thrown in the deep end of the entertainment industry.
“ 'The Voice’ has done a million great things for me; I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t on that show. So I’m grateful to have the opportunity,” Head said in a recent interview in Nashville. He just released his debut album, “Stained Glass and Neon,” in January. But it was not an easy road.
“It’s really depressing to come from such an accolade like winning ‘The Voice’ to a place where you’re not getting anywhere,” he said. “For me, it’s taken two years to be able to get the correct support system behind me to be able to release this record nationally.”
Here’s what happened to Head after his victory:
The immediate aftermath
Unlike amateur singers who audition for “The Voice,” Head, who was 38 when his season aired, had been playing music professionally for many years. The son of Texas musician Roy Head, who had a hit in the 1960s with “Treat Her Right,” Head had also made it to the “American Idol” finals nearly a decade earlier. His “Voice” victory was especially sweet, as he said in his first audition that he felt it was his last chance to launch a music career that could support his family.
Immediately after Head won, the show’s producers put him on an airplane in Los Angeles to fly to New York and talk to the media. The same day, he said, he met with Republic Records, which is owned by Universal, and he was signed.
“You meet with the label and decide what you’re going to do as far as the [debut] record,” he said.
Head knew he signed a long contract when he first auditioned — though admitted he and some of his fellow contestants did not read it too carefully. “It’s as thick as a Bible, and you just want to get on TV. You don’t know what it says. They could take your firstborn kid, you don’t have any idea,” he joked.
He hired a music lawyer and a manager, and they decided on a deal with the label. Essentially, Head said, the agreement was that the label would release a single within seven months — and if it did not, he was free to walk away.
So he started looking for songs for his first record. “During that period of time, we’re going to be digging, trying to come up with songs for the record, writing songs, meeting with songwriters, co-writing and trying to figure out what to do, what’s the next step,” he said.
The attempt to keep up momentum
While trying to figure out his music, Head knew the most important way to continue his momentum from the show was to go on tour. “A lot of people don’t know what to do after they win. But I was already [part of] a functioning band, so we just got the guys and hit the road,” he said.
He got help from his celebrity coach, Shelton, who asked if he wanted to be an opening act on his “Doing It To Country Songs” tour in early 2017, along with his other former “Voice” winner, RaeLynn.
“We did 13 arena dates with him. . . . it was awesome,” said Head, who added Shelton made a genuine effort to support him and stay in touch even after the tour. “Blake’s just a super great guy. He’s everything you think he is.”
According to Head, he and the Republic executives could not agree on a country single (“I wanted to make a record I could really get behind rather than just throw a single out to stay relevant”) or find a Nashville label as a partner, so he was released from the contract. “It was very affable, and they were very polite about it,” he said.
Head released a few singles that went No. 1 on the charts in his native Texas, but as far as new music, he was back to square one. Although nearly all winners return to “The Voice” to perform the following season, Head did not appear on the show again. (A source close to the situation said producers were in talks with Head to come back and perform, but there were clearance issues with the music, and they could not reach a resolution.)
Head kept playing concerts and later opened for country group Zac Brown Band. Eventually, he connected with legendary singer-songwriter Dean Dillon, best known for co-writing a ton of songs for George Strait. Dillon signed him to his record label last fall. They collaborated on his debut album; he just released his single to country radio, titled “Leave Her Wild,” written by Lori McKenna and J.T. Harding.
While Head promoted his album, he was disappointed he did not receive support on social media from “The Voice” about his new music. At first, he did not want to call out the show publicly, but in December, he could not help but tweet a picture of himself holding his trophy. “Hey @NBCTheVoice do you remember me? I would also like to “drop by” . . . been patiently waiting here but we’re coming up on 2 years already,” he wrote.
Hey @NBCTheVoice do you remember me? I would also like to “drop by”... been patiently waiting here but we’re coming up on 2 years already. All the best Season 11 2016 Champ Sundance! So much has happened and it’s time to show everyone. Talk to you soon. pic.twitter.com/p8yf0dT2MX— Sundance Head (@SundanceHead) December 5, 2018
“I have had no support from ‘The Voice’ at all. They haven’t even retweeted that I had a single out to radio or that my new record dropped, nothing. I don’t know why,” he said. “I’m not sure what I did. . . . I do find it kind of odd, but I can’t really get upset about it. They don’t owe me anything.”
Still, he was surprised to realize how quickly the show can move on from its former contestants. “They bring you in, you get the ratings for them, they get a champion, people tune in to watch, and they sell millions in advertising,” he said. “Then you win, and it’s like, ‘See ya later. We’ve got another season coming in.' ”
The silver lining
Even as Head has dealt with the ups and downs of his reality TV experience, at the end of the day, he is just grateful he is making a living as a singer-songwriter. He has had great feedback on his album from his fans and is looking forward to making more music, whether he becomes a superstar.
“Before ‘The Voice,’ I was a musician. I loved playing music, 'cause it makes me happy. And that’s who I am whether we are successful in the world of music outside of Texas or not,” he said. “I’m going to be happy touring or I’m going to be happy going back to Texas and playing bars for 30 or 40 people. That’s just who I am.”