Moments after Chevel Shepherd was named the Season 15 champ of “The Voice” on Tuesday, her coach, Kelly Clarkson, got choked up marveling at the 16-year-old country artist’s finale performance of “Broken Hearts” a night earlier.
“She made it just pure country, and it’s beautiful. I was listening to her last night and I was like, ‘I remember like before, when I was like her. You just remember that point of your life,’ ” she told USA TODAY, as her eyes teared up thinking about the performance and the memory. “I’m so glad this isn’t on video. I’m always caught crying. … My makeup artist hates me.”
Shepherd took her cue from her coach, saying she was now going to cry. Clarkson offered a word of advice: “Don’t join me. Fight it.”
But all the tears were joyful ones as the teen from New Mexico and the superstar coach celebrated the NBC singing competition victory backstage with a press conference, photos and numerous interviews. And there was nonteary joy, too.
“It’s crazy. I feel so excited,” Shepherd told USA TODAY.
“It feels freaking awesome to win again,” said Clarkson, enjoying her second trip to “The Voice” winner’s circle after Brynn Cartelli’s Season 14 victory last spring. “I’ve just believed in (Chevel) since the blind auditions. She’s been a little favorite of mine.”
She was especially pleased to triumph against fellow coach and country music star Blake Shelton, a frequent “Voice” winner who has masterfully guided country competitors, including Chris Kroeze and Kirk Jay, two of this season’s final four.
“We beat Blake with a country artist!” Clarkson said triumphantly, bringing her arm down in an overhand motion and exclaiming: “Boosh! That is like the best drop the mic.”
Shepherd was hardly certain about winning going into Tuesday’s finale, nearly two hours of musical performances that ended with about five minutes of tension when host Carson Daly announced eliminations and the winner.
“I had no idea what was going to happen because all four artists were incredible and we’re all so different,” she said. “Each of the country artists, me, Kirk and Chris, were all different aspects of country, so I didn’t know what would happen. I was just out there praying.”
Clarkson worried that having three country singers in the finale would make it tougher for Shepherd to win.
“So that’s why I kind of prepared her: ‘It doesn’t matter if you win, girl.’ I thought they were going to split the country vote, and I thought it would be Kennedy (Holmes),” who finished fourth, Clarkson said. “It’s amazing it’s Chevel, but Kennedy, Chris and Kirk deserved it (too). They all worked really hard. And it matters what you do after, regardless of if you win or not.”
For Shepherd, that means working on a music career, but first she’s headed home to Farmington, New Mexico, where “my whole town is freaking out right now, as we speak. I want to thank them personally because they’ve done so much. They had a watch party at my high school and it was at capacity, and they all voted for me.”
Once the celebration quiets a bit, “I’m just going to be a normal teenager for a little bit and then work on an album.”
As for that album, “I want to start putting my own classic country music out there and show the world who Chevel really is and who she really wants to be as a country artist,” she said. “I love Loretta (Lynn) and Dolly (Parton) and just the honky-tonkish but classic country sound. I want to put out an album like that.”
Clarkson said she “would be involved as much as (Shepherd) wants me to be” in her career and offered to set her up with songwriters and producers. Shepherd and some other Season 15 competitors, including Abby Cates, Kymberli Joye and Sarah Grace, will perform with Clarkson on her tour as Clarkson, who won the first “American Idol” and is known for her refreshing candor, has added some elements to her touring performance to prepare for her upcoming daytime talk show.
Clarkson sees similarities between her two “Voice” winners, Shepherd and Cartelli, and herself. “All three of us are workhorses.”
As a former “American Idol” winner who moved on to a very successful music career, Clarkson hopes she can offer the kind of perspective that wasn’t available when she won Fox’s singing competition in 2002.
“I had a conversation with Brynn at my house. I said, ‘We’re going to be working. You’re going to be doing radio and all this stuff. Take care of yourself, and tell us when you need a break. Don’t feel like you’re being lazy or a diva. You’ve got to take care of yourself first and then you’ll be able to do your best at what you do,’ ” she said. “I wish I had somebody saying that to me, so that’s what I tell them and how I help them. I didn’t have anyone.”