Warrick McZeke’s quick rise is the kind of story everyone loves: boy meets girl, proposes to her, writes his first song about the proposal (she said “absolutely,” so the song is, naturally, called “Miss Absolutely”), and listeners eat it up, because what’s not to love here? That song took McZeke, also a speech pathologist, to the NashNext competition and eventually to releasing his debut EP, C’Mon, earlier this year.
All the while the singer has continued to delve further into his relatively newfound love of country, and he’s still undergoing that education. “As I learn more and more about the history of country music and how African Americans are among the founding fathers, I pay homage to the late great DeFord Bailey, and following in his footsteps was Ray Charles, Aaron Neville, Charlie Pride, and Darius Rucker, to name a few,” McZeke says. “I am just hopeful, bound, and determined to make my mark in this industry just as newcomers Mickey Guyton, Kane Brown, and Jimmie Allen are finding success as African Americans in the genre of country music.” McZeke is also learning from African-American Cleve Francis, who not only experienced brief country music success in the early 1990s, but who also, as a cardiologist, left medicine for Nashville. Relatable. “So like Dr. Francis, I’m looking to venture away from a blessed and accomplished healthcare career to pursue music,” McZeke says. “I’ll certainly keep my certification current, but his story is added inspiration.” —Kelly Rae Smith
Runner-up: Will Blackburn
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