By the age of 15, Kaleigh Glanton was already adept at playing the guitar. Her father, Howard, a professor of classical guitar, started her on lessons at age 4, strumming a “little bitty” instrument, but years later the teenager tended to slack off on her practicing.
“I made the discovery that she could really sing,” Howard says. One day he was stepping out for an hour and reminded Kaleigh that she needed to practice. “So I turned on my recorder without her knowledge just to make sure. …I got back and listened to it, and 20 minutes in she starts singing “Yesterday” by The Beatles — and then she starts doing all this embellishment.”
But guitar practicing, not so much. Howard confronted his daughter. “OK, you didn’t really practice that much at all.”
“How’d you know?” she said.
“I recorded it,” he told her. “But you sing really well!
“And then she got mad at me,” Howard says, relating the story on a warm spring evening while relaxing in a booth at Adrian’s restaurant.
Kaleigh, sitting next to him, may not be totally over it — even today. “That’s so jacked up!” she exclaims. “It’s so wrong. He’s done that more than once — don’t even get me started.”
That first impromptu recording led to a shift in musical focus for Kaleigh, who lives in West Wichita with her father. This year she appeared on national television on the reality show “The Voice.” During her blind audition all four celebrity judges swiveled their mechanized chairs around — first Adam Levine, then Shakira, Blake Shelton and Usher — signaling they all wanted her for their team.
“It was very unexpected,” Kaleigh says. “I honestly don’t even remember it because it was just super overwhelming, the adrenaline and the anxiety. It was really unbelievable and shocking — it was awesome, though. I didn’t expect it at all.”
“I did,” says Howard, who was watching from the wings. “I knew it was going to happen. It was kind of surreal. I had no doubt that she was going to turn all four chairs — she has an incredible voice. It’s fun for me to watch other people watch her.”
In the Round 2 battle, exhilaration turned to defeat when Blake Shelton chose another contestant over Kaleigh.
“That song just stressed me out like none other. It was a really bad two weeks of that battle round,” she says. “It was hard, but I got over it and now I’m actually kind of happy that I didn’t make it that much further… and some of the songs that I’ve written since I’ve been back, I never would have written if I had made it past that round.
South Padre sunrise
Now the singer has almost a complete album of fresh songs and a new manager/producer to promote them:
Billy Stull. He was also key to getting Kaleigh on the show in the first place.
One of Howard’s friends passed a recording of Kaleigh’s singing on to Stull, who’s known as “The Man with the Golden Ears” in the music industry. Stull responded: “Well, she’s fabulous; send
me some more stuff.” And he eventually got her an audition with “The Voice.”
He also landed Kaleigh a sweet gig singing and playing guitar on a South Padre Island resort for two months this summer, where she’ll finish writing the last two songs on her album and hit the recording studio. She describes the emerging style as “bluesy, soulful, pop-y, folky,” including one song called “Castaway” about going out on her own, and another one called “Fighter” about “me being myself and not changing for anybody.”
She’ll accompany herself on the new album, along with other backup musicians. Her dad, the guitar pro, calls her an “outstanding” guitarist. But she says, “Once I started singing, I realized what my true passion was.”
The front of Adrian’s is all wired up for Howard’s guitar set tonight, but Kaleigh kicks things off by crooning a few spontaneous riffs, and the fingers strumming along on the acoustic strings are every bit as adroit as her rich, limber voice. The dinner crowd applauds appreciatively.
This was one of the first places Kaleigh sang publicly, as one half of a father-daughter duo. Now, in a few days she’s off to her South Padre booking, thanks in part to The Voice. She takes a few minutes to reflect back on what she learned on the show.
“I really found out who I was when I went out there,” she says. “Going out there by myself for the first time, being out on my own, doing my own thing. It was an eye-opener for sure.”
“It gave her a lot of confidence,” Howard says. “I’ve told her since she was little that she’s really great, but I’m her dad. To have four chairs turning for you and they’re top in their field — they turned for a reason.”
Kaleigh muses on that for a moment. “Yeah, I didn’t even think about that. Definitely confidence. A lot of times I would doubt myself — not anymore, though.”