WESTERLY — Billy Gilman went back to school to complete a project: a music video to accompany his newest song, a stirring anthem called "Soldier."
Gilman, the popular and much-loved singing idol from Hope Valley, who won the hearts of fans as an 11-year-old when his single, "One Voice," rocketed to number one on the country music charts, was in the auditorium at Westerly High School on Friday morning, working with the crew from Firesite Productions, the Noank-based company he hired to create the music video.
The video, which was taped in Westerly, Norwich, and Manchester, Conn., should be ready for release as soon as next week, Gilman said as the producer, director and assistants arranged cameras, taped windows and checked the room for lighting and sound.
Fit, smiling, and dressed sharply in jeans and a tank top, Gilman chatted with his longtime manager, Angela Bacari, as he waited his cue to take the stage.
"This is our fourth collaboration with Billy," said Alec Asten of Westerly, a "cinematic storyteller" who is serving as the music video's executive producer.
"I like to keep it close-to-home, in-house and fun," Gilman said with a smile. "It's the coolest thing when people from around the country see the videos and I say 'These are done by my guys back in Rhode Island."
"It opens peoples' eyes to how much talent we have here," said Gilman, who zoomed back to attention in 2017 with his appearances and near victory on Season 11 of "The Voice," the NBC talent show. Adam Levine of Maroon 5 served as his coach.
Asten said the new video includes three different vignettes, "three different stories that deal with people figuring out what they believe in."
"Billy wanted to come home to make the video," Asten said, and he wanted it to be about real people overcoming adversity. "It's gritty."
One segment of the video deals with addiction, the second is about homelessness, and the third is about bullying, Asten said. Gilman sings while the stories are on the screen behind him.
"It's like I am watching it all happen," said Gilman, "like I'm watching or witnessing these things going on ... race and LGBT discrimination, drug epidemic, bullying, and so much more."
"It's the stuff we hear on the news all the time, yet we all yearn to belong and to be accepted," he said.
While the subject matter may seem bleak, each segment contains a hopeful message, Gilman added. He said that "Soldier" is not only his personal anthem, but "an anthem for all of us."
It's a song, he said, that makes him proud, perhaps prouder than any other song he's written. It's a song everyone can relate to, he said, a song about inspiring others to make change.
"We all have to be our own soldiers," said Gilman, who came out publicly in 2014. "We all have to fight in order to stand our ground. We need love and we need to stand our ground against any and all inequalities."
"I've long been an advocate, going all the way back to 'One Voice,'" he said.
Gilman, who has a large and loyal local following, was chosen as Favorite Country New Artist in the 2001 American Music Awards. He has also received a Directors Award for Philanthropy; four wins in the Billboard Video Awards; two Grammy nominations; four nominations in the Academy of Country Music Awards; and three CMA nominations. He also earned a spot in the Guinness World Records for being the youngest singer to ever reach No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Album chart.
"We are all so grateful for the people of Westerly," said Asten. "Once again, as they always do, the people of Westerly have gone to bat for Billy." Staff members from Westerly High School have gone out their way to accommodate the needs of the crew, he said, all while preparing the school for opening day.
Gilman, who heads to New York for Fashion Week in a few days, said the music video will be available on his website billygilman.com, early this month.
"It's a pretty fast turnaround," he said. "My team will put it out at the same time the iHeart channel comes out with it."