The stakes were high for one Delta State student. The church-going African-American junior has dreams to make it big. All of the trials of lessons learned in the past have shaped Scottie Willis into the singer he is today. This young man was determined to be deemed “Sunday’s Best.”
Growing up, Willis was a part of his church’s youth choir. However, “I didn’t really want to sing,” he said. His father sings and has played the piano for over three decades, so in an act of rebellion Willis rejected his musical talent. “I didn’t want to do anything like him, because I already have his name, and I look just like him,” he said. “So I wanted to be the exact opposite.”
Nevertheless, things did not go according to his plans. “One day I just woke up and started to sing,” said Willis. He also got involved with the piano four years ago and has been playing ever since.
In an effort to make something of his newly embraced singing talent, Willis auditioned for the BET network show, “Sunday’s Best” during his sophomore year in college. The show is a gospel singing competition and has been running for at least four years.
The show travels to about four cities each season in pursuit of contestants and gathers hundreds of them. That number is eventually narrowed down to 20 based on background checks, how relevant they are on social media sites, and what kind of ratings producers feel they could bring to the show, according to Willis. “If they feel like you are going to bring a lot of ratings, you’re definitely going to get on the show.”
Willis has not made the show in the past, but he got close during his first attempt and even closer during his second. The first time he was in Atlanta, Ga., and made it to the third round with the celebrity judges. They loved his voice, Willis said, but they just wanted it to mature. “At least they didn’t tell me I sucked,” the singer said. “I was perfectly fine with ‘let your voice mature.’”
The following year, he tried again in Houston, Texas. He said he skipped the normal rounds and went with the V.I.P., which means all the preliminary rounds are skipped and possible contestants just go straight to the judges. From there, only the top two were chosen from a room of about 20 contestants. “I was in the top three,” said Willis.
On March 22, Willis was set to travel to Atlanta once more to try again for the third time. In preparation, he said he was taking steps to make sure he didn’t get sick before then. He refrained from drinking alcohol and ate very few fried foods since “grease and vocal chords don’t really mix really together,” he said. He also practiced daily.
Willis said there was a list of about 25 songs to pick from for auditions, and songs not on the list were prohibited. “They give you the songs to sing, but you have a pretty good choice between traditional or contemporary songs,” he said. His song of choice was “It Is Well with My Soul.”
“It’s an old hymn,” he said. “I chose that simply because they expect younger people to sing the younger music. So I thought if I came in with a hymn, they would be like, ‘Oh, okay. You know some hymns.’”
The singer said that he just wanted “to be set apart.” He said that how he sings already makes him unique. “It’s a mixture between emotion and talent,” said Willis. “A lot of people feel like there’s a way you should sing now, like there’s a certain way you should sound based on what they hear on the radio.”
He is unimpressed with following the trend. “A lot of people do too many runs or too much of this or too much of that, but if you just sing, just sing,” he said.
Willis has experience being on the judging side of singing competitions also. He has judged many of them at his junior college, Hinds Community College, including: Hinds Idol and Hind’s version of “Sunday’s Best.” “I like to hear people sing,” he said. “I usually don’t tell them too much.” He wants aspiring singers to have their own sound. “Be you, and don’t mimic,” he said.
He was excited about being judged himself and was hopeful that everything would work out. “I hope to get on the show,” he said. “It would be nice publicity for Delta State and myself.”
Ultimately, Willis did not make it to the end this time around, but he got feedback from the judges. “During the first round I was actually told by the judges that I had a very unique tone, unlike any they had heard that day, and that is what ultimately carried me into the next round,” the soul singer stated.
Although, he did not progress as far as he wanted to, he did not let it discourage him. “I learned that ‘no’ doesn’t always mean ‘never,’ but it sometimes means ‘just not right now,’” he said. “I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and maybe I was never meant to be ‘Sunday’s Best,’ but I know in my heart I was given this gift to share with God’s people. So no matter the platform I’m on, whether it’s local or national, that’s what I will do,” he said.
In the near future, Willis may audition for more TV shows. “I’m definitely going to continue writing and self-producing my music,” he said. “In fact I plan to release my third mixtape, entitled ‘My Thoughts,’ in Jackson on June 1 of this year.”
More of his plans include graduating from DSU with a degree in social science education next spring. Musically, he is in the developmental stages of putting on a live recording in Central Mississippi. He said that it will feature original songs, guest soloists from all over the country, as well as a self-assembled mass choir. “It is tentatively scheduled for December of 2016, so mark your calendars,” Willis said.
Willis advised future participants. “Do everything in your power to achieve any goal you set, so at the end of the day you can say you gave it your all,” he said
Willis encourages all those interested to visit his website, www.scottiewillismusic.com, and his music is available on Youtube at www.youtube.com/user/2010willis.