Believe it or not, with “26¢” this refreshing family trio has hit country music big time. With the Wilkinsons, honestly, it’s taken a lot more than that — years of singing together, working on their soaring harmonies, building the perfect collection of song material, but more importantly, keeping it all a family affair.
Comprised of singer/songwriter and father Steve, 16-year old daughter Amanda and 14-year-old son Tyler, The Wilkinsons have undoubtedly crossed over the fame threshold in country music in an extremely short amount of time. Their debut single, “26¢,” a driving, family-themed ballad led by the vocal powerhouse Amanda, from their first album, Nothing But Love, hit the charts running and continues to run. Upon releasing the song, the trio surprisingly landed themselves the highest single debut position on Radio & Records’ country singles chart. With 105 total radio stations on add day, “26¢” entered the charts at No. 37 — beating the 1991 record set by Tracy Lawrence’s “Sticks and Stones” by seven positions. They easily mark one of the first groups comprised of family members to chart since the Whites in 1989.
Regardless of what seems to be a sudden rise to fame, when it comes to what matters first, it’s always family over fame.
“We approached this whole adventure when we moved down here to Nashville as a family,” admits Steve with his two singing children sitting near him. “We’re a unit. When we’re making music on stage, we’re a unit and also when we’re handling business. All of our business decisions are always made as family.”
“And we’re not misinformed either,” adds Amanda. “Tyler and I have our own schedules. It’s like school would be and we have our school work organized to fit into our schedule, too. It’s cool, because we sit down and have family discussions as to what we’re going to do.”
“Believe it or not,” Steve says, “their opinions are given strong consideration.”
“I wouldn’t say that he lets us make all the decisions,” chimes in Tyler, “but we all have our opinions that will make the decisions.
“We come to a mutual conclusion between the three of us, my wife and our youngest because they’re also involved in our decisions,” Steve confirms.
Even before “26¢” took the country audience by storm, the Wilkinsons were faced with a huge family decision — whether to be content with a home in their native Canada and continue to make music for the people there, or to latch on to a family dream just waiting to come true. Dad seriously got cold feet about plunging into what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“We decided that we were ready for Nashville as far as the act went,” he explains. “But what happened was that last year in the spring we had sold our house. We kinda all got together and I said ‘I can build us another house and we can continue doing what we are doing, or seriously think about taking that step off the cliff. It was a family decision again that we made to come down here. I’m glad we did. Whether things happen this quickly or not, the worst thing that you can do is spend your life thinking ‘what could have been or what might have been if you had taken a chance?’ I think everyone in my family are all believers in believing. Hang onto that dream in spite of the downs, because there are downs in any business. Just hang on to them and if you believe in it long enough, it will happen. With hard work and belief, you can make it happen.”
Drawing on a thick mix of musical influences including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Linda Ronstadt, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, George Strait and Restless Heart, the Wilkinsons are making it happen — and remaining perfectly honest in the process with their approach to both their music and personal lives. The songs featured throughout Nothing But Love keep close to the Wilkinsons’ own home — offering real families out there and other real teenagers and even other real parents something they can truly relate to in today’s music. If they don’t believe it, they don’t sing it. While the entire album drips with truth and amazing talent, “26¢” is a prime example of more to come.
“We were in Wichita doing a show and this 16-year-old girl came up to me and was just sobbing,” tells Amanda. “I was hugging her and tried to calm her down. She finally got settled down enough to relay the story to me and she said that her mom and her had gotten into this huge fight and that she was going to move to Kansas City herself, which is a huge city and that would have been very scary for her. So her mom must have known what was happening and that her daughter was going to leave. Then she heard ’26¢’ on the radio and gave her daughter a copy of the single with a note and a quarter and a penny taped to it. She read the note, listened to the single and because of it, she chose not to leave and patched things up with her mom. If that was the only thing we did with that song, that’s the best thing. When I walked away from that girl, it was the best feeling that I ever had. It was great.”
“I said to Amanda afterwards when we were done signing autographs and back in the motor home,” explained Steve, “I said ‘Ya know — it’s really nice that the single is doing great, but we changed someone’s life with a song for the better. I think it clicked for me, the power that music really has.”
Both Amanda and Tyler are becoming pretty powerful themselves in the new teen sensation department these days. Reports indicate that Amanda is already stealing hearts with her winning smile and powerful voice, while Tyler could very well end up in the “country hunk hall of fame.” His response — “total embarrassment.”
“Tyler’s face always turns red when we talk about this,” quips sis. “But if there are those girls out there making all the smiles at him and stuff, Dad always has a joke to make out of it.”
“It’s still embarrassing, with or without Dad,” admits Tyler with a red face.
“I can’t remember exactly where we were,” added Steve, “but this girl had handed Tyler her phone number and said ‘We’re having a pool party next week. Can you come? But don’t phone our house and ask for Bobbie Joe, that’s my sister. Ask for Heather, that’s me, because she has a boyfriend.’”
“So the girl says ‘So is he gonna call me?’” explained Amanda, “and Dad says ‘You know what honey — he makes his own dates but I wouldn’t hold your breath on it.’”
“What’s neat too,” Steve further explains, “is that we’re getting a real cross-section of people coming up and asking for autographs and talking about ’26¢.’ There are a number of younger people, but we’re getting people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. So I’m really happy to see that it’s doing a lot of crossing of lines. It’s not just strictly a teenage song. A twenty year-old would get next to this song, too. It’s crossing a lot of lines and we’re thrilled about that.
“The song is also crossing genres, too,” explains Tyler. “It’s just not a mother and a daughter song. It could be a mother and son song. It could be a father and a son song or a father and a daughter song.”
Unquestionably, the Wilkinsons’ warm personalities, family fun and values are garnering fans, but when it comes to sparking success in the business world, especially on today’s crowded country radio, it’s the talent left on the front lines. With a phenomenal torch-n-twang vocal package, down-right innocence and sock-knocking passion, they have what it takes and there’s a lot more where their “26¢” debut comes from.
Co-penning seven of the album’s eleven cuts, Steve, who’s been honing his chops as a tunesmith for several years, teamed up with some of Music City’s most stellar songwriters such as Gary Burr, Doug Johnson and Rory Michael Bourke to map out a beautifully carved and diversified production. Brilliantly produced by Tony Haselden, Russ Zavitson and Doug Johnson, Nothing But Love unleashes a buffet of every emotion possible with its soul-stirring ballads like “Fly” and “Williamstown,” plus gut-thumping rompers such as “Boy Oh Boy,” “Back On My Feet,” the chugging title cut and the once-in-a-lifetime-gem “The Word.” In addition to the songs and soaring vocal force that surprisingly features tear-it-up Tyler along with Amanda, who we’d all love to see in a singing showdown with lady LeAnn Rimes, this project unveils honesty in its purest form. And it’s that form that’s sure to keep the Wilkinsons, hands-down, the most thrilling, across-the-board, audience-capturing act to hit the country scene since the Judds.
“There’s probably 10% nervousness and the rest is probably pure excitement,” explains Amanda of the Nothing But Love disc’s release to the public. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. This is finally when we get to release the music that we love to make and that’s a thrill.
“I was really excited that I got to put out the first single,” she goes on to explain about the album’s selection of lead vocalists throughout the songs, “but I’ll be even more thrilled when Tyler gets to be out there. I’m the big sister and just proud of him and what he’s done. Plus, when we were recording the album, and he’s going to hate me for this, but he was going through that voice change,” she giggles. “So he worked really hard on those songs that he put on the album.”
“I was just trying not to squeak,” Tyler explains with a chuckle.
Despite any squeaks and rough spots throughout the Wilkinsons’ early career years, their priority, like long before the music, is to continue being a family and representing that to the world the best way possible — smoothly and not too vulnerably to fall into the any kind of “stardom” stigma.
“I think we work real hard, too, to go in the opposite directions of that,” Steve says. “I mean when we are out on road trips and people insist on carrying our luggage for us, we don’t let them.”
“We carried them before,” Amanda adds.
“That’s a small example of how we try and keep grounded,” continues Steve. “Nobody needs to be goofy just because they have a record on the radio.”
Amanda further explains her dad’s analysis by saying “The world already has enough idiots in it, and we always say that it doesn’t need to be increased by three.”
“I think the best thing that we could do is be aware of all this,” Dad concludes while explaining how the children could be so easily influenced by performing at such a young age. “If you can see where danger lies, then you know how to escape from it and avoid it. That’s my feeling, and my wife and I have talked about that. We’re going to work real hard to make sure these guys are normal kids and that there’s a normal upbringing. I know things get real busy, but that’s when we get busy and take extra pains to keep things more normal for them.”
If love is indeed what makes the world go around, this new family phenomenon should get music listeners off to a spinning start.