By Laura Youngs
Photos by Richard McLaren

American Idol first hit the airwaves in 2002, and for much of America, the musical competition was “don’t miss television.” The first season winner was Texas native Kelly Clarkson, who quickly shot to stardom achieving Grammy awards and multi-platinum album status. Following years turned out mega stars Jennifer Hudson and country superstar Carrie Underwood. It also spurred copycat shows America’s Got Talent in 2006 and The Voice in 2011 with tens of thousands of singers lining up to audition with dreams of overnight success. I admit I have had my doubts about the “reality” of some of these shows until The Voice made its debut.
The idea of choosing a singer based on talent instead of looks was a brilliant idea and their ratings still reflect this. With that being said, I am not a constant follower of any of the shows; so when I was told that Dave Fenley was going to be performing at a local venue, I had to do a Google search to see what the fuss was about. For starters, he is the only artist I am aware of who has been on both America’s Got Talent (Season 8 in 2013) and The Voice (Season 15 in 2018), where he was on Blake Shelton’s team. While he was not the winner of either show his live performance is clear proof as to why he made it to the semifinals of both. I am not surprised to find out that Fenley has Texas roots.
I entered a club one night and saw him on stage with a baseball cap, heavy beard, beer in his hand and singing the chorus of “Fireball” as the crowd cheered and laughed while shots of Fireball were being sent to the stage. Before I even heard him sing, it was clear to me that this man was more than just a voice, he was an entertainer. He mesmerized the crowd with his antics, stories and jokes in between songs. However, there was no mistaking his singing talent. His vocals have a gravelly sound (if you will) that seems popular today but can soften in a moment when he sings a blues or ballad.
Born in Lufkin, TX, he eventually moved to Canada due to his dad’s job transfer. He spent his high school and part of his college years there before moving back to Texas to study at Stephen F. Austin University. It was there that he began writing music and ended up dropping out of school. A job as a door-to-door salesman took him to Los Angeles for a short time where he would frequent karaoke bars to showcase his original tunes.
A family illness caused his return to the Alamo City. He had various jobs, including a singing stint at Fiesta Texas for a season and eventually made his way to the local music scene. Not surprisingly, he cultivated quite a following and made it a mission to help build up the acoustic scene in clubs so that solo players could make real money and have a modicum of success. He mentions a few local musicians that he considers “guitarmegadons” such as Chris Boss and Ruben V. The humble artist credits his time in San Antonio for honing his guitar and writing skills, as well as his performing skills and becoming comfortable in front of audiences, and states he has never been fired from a gig.
Dave’s real calling has been songwriting. In 2013 he felt that his songs were not reflective of where Texas music was going and decided to move to Nashville to hone his skills and find a better musical fit.
It was only a few weeks after arriving in Nashville that America’s Got Talent found him on the internet and set up an audition. A week later he was back in Nashville at a club and asked if he can sing a few songs. He was abruptly told no. Not to be deterred, he hung out and bought a hundred dollars in Fireball shots for the crowd (you may notice the Fireball theme in his story). A while later the manager asks if he would like to play a few songs as the band was a no-show. Naturally he was eager, and as he plays the first strum of his guitar, he breaks a string! In true performer fashion the show must go on. As he is changing his guitar string he begins beat boxing. “This other guy jumps on stage singing 90’s hip hop jams while I’m beat boxing and the crowd goes crazy. And then Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert walk in to the bar” he says. “She jumps up on a tall table and points at her manager, points at us and points outside.” He didn’t even know the person on stage with him but they both go outside where Miranda’s manager said she wants them on tour with her and Dierks Bentley. At that point, Miranda walks out and tells her manager “Whatever it takes, get them!” They called themselves “Jukebox” and toured with her for 3 years.
During this same time, Fenley was flying to Las Vegas for America’s Got Talent where he made it to the semi-finals. He said he felt a little dejected after that. Although he had the “Miranda thing,” which he appreciated, there was no showcasing his songwriting. He had no management or guidance but was able to collaborate with A-list artists in writing songs. In 2018, a friend of his who had previously been on The Voice called him with a casting connection which led to an audition and the opportunity to be on Team Blake. Blake Shelton had met Fenley but had never heard him sing, only beat box, so it was an honest chair turn and Shelton was surprised to see the artist in front of him. “It was an amazing experience,” Fenley tells me. “The girl who won, I wrote three songs that will be featured on her first album. As a songwriter, my whole life has really changed. When I left the show, I had people playing my songs.”
Fenley’s latest song, a poignant country ballad called “Come and Think About It” has recently been released. He is writing his life story and whether he ends up singing it or another artist performs it, it is a story worth listening to. I’m looking forward to hearing the next chapter.