“The winner of the 2017 Nash Next Challenge is . . . Todd O’Neill.”
Those were the words Todd heard in October 2016 after he beat out hundreds of competitors in a four-month-long competition to become the last man standing in the Nash Next Challenge, which was created by Cumulus Media and sponsored by Country Inns & Suites.
As the winner, Todd was awarded a recording contract with Big Machine Records, a single produced by Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus and guaranteed airplay on all Cumulus country radio stations.
Fast-forward to today and Todd is releasing his debut single, “Love Again.”
“Scott [Borchetta, president of Big Machine Label Group] asked me to produce Todd’s first single, and I’m very proud of it,” Jay DeMarcus tells Nash Country Daily. “It’s called ‘Love Again.’ Brent Young co-wrote it, and Todd’s a great singer. It’s pretty cool. I’m excited about it.”
Nash Country Daily sat down with Todd to talk about his Nash Next Challenge win, being in the studio with Jay DeMarcus and why he decided to record “Love Again” as his first single.
Congratulations on winning Nash Next Challenge. How does it feel to be the winner?
“It’s awesome. It’s been an overwhelming situation, really. From getting to work with Jay DeMarcus and getting to meet Kix Brooks, Danielle Bradbery and Scott Borchetta, who were the judges on the challenge. And then to get in the studio with Jay and work with these world class musicians, not to mention cutting a song that was written by Brett Young. I went from singing at local bars in Hammond, Louisiana to Nashville, Tennessee.”
What was going through your mind when they called your name?
“The competition was just super talented. I’ve gotta be honest with you, I had my eye on The Young Fables. I thought it was going to be them, honestly. So when they said, ‘Todd,’ I just lost it—I was floored. I didn’t even hear my last name. Todd was good enough. It took me a few minutes to get up to the stage because all the other contestants were coming up to me, shaking my hand, or hugging my neck. What a gracious group of people too. I have made some really good friends through this process.”
How is the Nash Next Challenge different than other music competitions?
“I think the guaranteed radio play. That is national radio exposure. You cannot ask for something bigger than that—to get that out to the masses and your original song played on the radio.”
Your debut single, produced by Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts, is “Love Again.” Tell me about the song?
“I think it’s got a different message from anything that I have heard on the radio. It’s about a guy who was once jaded with relationships and the art of love. And now he has found this new woman that’s got him ready to love again.”
How did you go about finding the song to be our first single?
“That song was written by Jessie Fraser, Cary Barlow, and Brett Young. We spent a couple of days at Big Machine with [Rascal Flatts’] Jay DeMarcus listening to songs. Jay was such a big influence on everything through this whole process. He was on board, totally interested and totally committed to this project. We sat at Big Machine and listened to songs. I never knew about a plug meeting. They basically take all of these appointments throughout the day with various publishing companies. They come in and they play multiple songs from each publishing company. We heard some great material. Some of Nashville’s best writers. It was incredible, but as soon as I heard that song, ‘Love Again,’ I fell in love with it. It’s fun, it’s upbeat. It immediately went into my top five favorite songs. Big Machine asked me to turn those in and ‘Love Again’ was at the top of the list. It went up the chain of command and the man himself, Mr. Scott Borchetta, got to actually pick the song. He said, ‘I love ‘Love Again.’ Let’s do it.’ So, we were super excited.”
But you almost didn’t get to cut “Love Again,” correct?
“Well I have a really cool story about that. Fast forward about a week and a half and I get an email saying, ‘Unfortunately you can’t cut the song because Brett Young put it on hold for his next album.’ You’ve got to understand how disappointed we were. We are back to the drawing board now. It’s like, ‘Do we pick from the four others? Do we settle? I mean, what do we do?
“Fast forward another two weeks and we are in New York playing a show at a place called Printer’s Alley, and we played on a Wednesday night. Thursday we were supposed to fly out. Well, we get snowed in. A foot of snow drops. The next morning I get a call from my manager, Barbara, and she says, ‘Todd, guess who’s stuck in town with us? Guess who’s playing at Printer’s Alley, where you played last night? Brett Young.’ She said, ‘You should go and ask him and just talk to him.’ I said, ‘No way. It’s Brett Young.’ One, how am I going to get near him. And I can’t just go ask Brett Young for his song. Well, I did. I went to the show and I introduced myself. He was super nice through the whole thing and I told him about the contest. I told him who I was and who I was working with. We were under that Big Machine umbrella together. I said, ‘By the way, Brett, I really love your song, ‘Love Again.” He said, ‘Well, you should cut it.’ I was like, ‘Well I can’t.’ He said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well you put it on hold, I can’t.’ And he said, ‘Todd, if you want that song and you are ready to cut, I want you to have it.’ It speaks volumes of his character really.”
Jay DeMarcus produced the single. He’s quite the jokester. How was it being in the studio with him?
“To get in the same room with Jay DeMarcus and learn that he is probably the funniest human being I know. I mean that guy is quick. He is witty, but hilarious. I say he missed his calling as a comedian. But at the same time, he maintains professionalism. What a talented guy. I watched him play on the record and just take an already wonderful song and coach me and make it even better. And it was through his vision that we were able to do so.”
So what comes next for Todd O’Neill?
“Well, I’m just kind of taking it all in. I am going to continue to work my tail off. This is when the hard work begins. This is when you get out and get a song on national radio. I am going to continue to write songs, continue to tour, and just look forward to playing new places and seeing new faces.”
Check out Todd’s Interview of Firsts with Nash Country Daily.