This time last year, Walker Burroughs was about to begin his American Idol Journey: a journey in which he successfully finished in the Top 8. A year later, Walker is back at Belmont, thriving halfway through his junior year and continuing to boast his vocal chops, well on his way to a successful career in music.
American Idol’s next season is set to premiere on February 16, 2020 with the potential for more Belmont students to be featured, as the show hosted an exclusive audition on campus earlier this fall. We sat down with Walker to discuss his experience on “Idol,” his advice to others embarking on the journey and to find out what he has been up to since his time on the show ended.
When Walker released a single in the summer of 2018, he was encouraged to audition for “Idol.” As a music education major not planning to pursue a career in performing, Walker decided he didn’t have much to lose and wanted to see what would happen. He quickly found himself in the executive producer round in Nashville and then the celebrity audition in October 2018.
“This easily felt like the biggest audition that I’ve ever done. I had no experience with TV, cameras or producers or interviews or any of that stuff. I went in for the celebrity audition, and it was just so overwhelming,” said Walker.
But, he wowed the judges and scored a golden ticket. Walker described the first couple of rounds as “intense on so many levels” because he didn’t know how his skill level compared to other contestants, and not to mention the timing landed him right around Belmont’s finals week.
“Belmont gave me a huge amount of support through all of that. Belmont is the REASON I was as successful as I was on the show, I think. Hollywood week is very stressful and leaves you constantly tired, but being in the music school here helped me know how to take care of my body and my voice – that helped me get through,” he said.
To everyone who asks Walker if they should audition, he promptly says “yes, they should.” But, he is also quick to explain that their journey may not be solely based on talent; it’s a lot more than that.
“Looking back now, it’s like I was really lucky that I fit their puzzle piece. It is a singing competition, but first and foremost, it’s a TV show, and they have to have these different characters,” he explained. “I just fit into this box really well of the perky little next-door-neighbor boy, you know? There are plenty of other people that I think, in my opinion, were much better than I was that got cut a lot sooner than I did. And it’s just because I fit the box.”
Walker had multiple friends with him at Hollywood Week from Belmont and was thankful to move on to the next round with Belmont alumna Emma Kleinberg. He said the moral support he received from the small group of friends he kept in the loop through the process is what reminded him he was worthy and capable.
“It was a ridiculous amount of help and support that I got, so much more than I could’ve expected,” explained Walker. “I’m back at Belmont now because this is where I need to be; this is where my people are. I think education is super important; I’m studying to be a teacher. But also, my community of friends and the community here make me remember I still have SO much to learn and so far to go as a musician and as a person. ‘Idol’ was really great, but it’s just a very, very different community than what I have here. I needed that community when I was gone so I’m happy to be back.”
Looking ahead, Walker says he is still figuring out his plans and taking opportunities as they come. Since the show, he has been writing music and performed for several months as the piano player on tour with Bobby Bones, a national radio host and mentor on “American Idol.”
“I’m the musician, Bobby’s the comedian, and then there’s this other guy that’s kind of in between named Eddy. We have a great time,” said Walker. “Bobby lets me sing some of my music during the show, and guess who’s opening for that show? Emma Klein, who’s one of my best friends in the world. It’s just a dream. The best thing that could’ve happened. And it’s all because of ‘Idol.’ That’s another reason I say, ‘audition.’ You just don’t know what you’re gonna get.”
In addition to touring the country with Bobby Bones, Walker managed to balance school work, sing in Belmont’s a Capella group, The Beltones, and perform with Belmont’s Jazz Choir.
He is constantly learning how to balance the many pros and cons of his new normal. “Being recognized in public is very exciting except for when I’m eating. That’s the annoying time. I took a bite out of my sandwich once and this guy was immediately like, ‘Will you take a picture with my daughter?’ Let me just finish this bite!” he laughed. “Seriously though, it’s so flattering and so cool that people would want to come say hi to me. I think about if there was somebody that I admired enough to want to go say hi to them. It’s a scary thing to go say hi to people in that way. So, I think it’s really cool that people would have the courage and kindness to want to compliment me in that way.”
Walker released his latest single “Made to Be” this fall and has had the chance to perform many of his own shows. He is featured on the recent album “Searching” by The Beltones on the track “Searching for a Feeling.” He will also be spotlighted during his solo with the Jazz Choir when “Christmas at Belmont” airs on PBS nationwide December 23 at 8 p.m. CT (9 p.m. ET). Local stations may air the show a second time: check local listings for times.
Walker’s advice to any Belmont students that may make it on the show or might consider auditioning in the future:
Hi Belmont friends, I’m proud of you for doing something out of your comfort zone.
If I could offer any advice it would be to pick the right song for your voice and for the artist and person that you are. Show your range, show your runs if you have them, but also do not go over the top. Be tasteful, but also show off what your voice can do.
Also know that this is not entirely your talent or anything like that, which was so helpful to me to understand. Go in with the mindset that “this is a really awesome opportunity” and “I’m gonna see what happens.” You’re going to learn something from this no matter what happens, so hopefully it’s a positive experience.
As long as you stick to the person you are and remember that as you grow in the experience, “American Idol” is absolutely worth doing because of the connections and the experience. It is unlike anything you’ve ever done. It’s crazy. And, good luck!