Kicking It with Evvie McKinney: From ‘The Four’ to Becoming “The One”
‘The Four’ Winner Evvie McKinney Talks Life Before and After the Show, Inspiring Others Through Her Music, and Keeping God First
In life, some people fear the fire, and some people simply become it. Powerhouse vocalist Evvie McKinney has been bringing the fire ever since she stepped onto a stage and in front of a microphone.
You may have gotten acquainted with the soulful songbird through season one of FOX’s celebrated singing competition, The Four: Battle for Stardom, judged by entertainment mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, mega-hit producer DJ Khaled, and singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor. However, it wasn’t long before McKinney went from being one of ‘The Four’ to the last one standing. Rocking and rolling all the way from the great Memphis, Tennessee, the 21-year-old had the audience at “hello” and dominated the entire show so much that she said her final goodbyes holding the winning title.
A country girl from humble beginnings, gaining inspiration from her musician father, the art of music was actually something that McKinney began expressing early on. At the age of five, after being encouraged by her parents, she joined the choir at her local church, and things only took off from there. Even today, with every song that she sings, McKinney’s down-home flavor seasons every verse and the lyrics that lie within them.
“I’m rooted in soul,” she says. “It’s something that will always be a part of my sound and what I do. No matter if I do R&B, blues, or funk, it’s going to be soulful. My whole goal is just to make pop music with a dab of soul.”
During her time on The Four, the sassy songstress effortlessly proved that by captivating the eyes and ears of millions with her noteworthy renditions of timeless hits “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” and “Proud Mary” by the late Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner. Now a signed soloist, she did it again with her very own emotion-sparking single, “How Do You Feel,” which successfully released earlier this year via Republic Records.
When talking about the song, McKinney states in a recent press release: “I put every experience I’ve ever had into that song. It gives people another perspective and blueprint of who I am as an artist,” she explains. “The lyrics talk about a woman who’s in love with a man, but he’s in love with another woman. I’m telling the story and asking, ‘How do you feel when you’re with her?’”
But personal heartbreak isn’t the only heartbreak that McKinney has endured. At such a youthful age, with her passion has already come a lot of pain. In 2005, she lost her father, leaving her mother to raise seven children all on her own. The family ended up moving into a home provided by Habitat for Humanity, but still, McKinney managed to rise above and hungrily pursue the dream she’d always wanted to turn into reality.
From the Stax Music Academy to battling for stardom in front of the whole world, Evvie McKinney has yet to let any situation that she has gone through determine her destination.
McKinney stands firm in the fact that God isn’t done with her yet. In fact, she’s just getting started, and we’re certainly ready for the ride.
Check out our exclusive interview with Evvie McKinney below!
Parlé Mag: Before we delve into your successful run on season one of The Four, which ultimately resulted in you becoming the winner, could you tell us a little bit about your life prior to the show, back in Memphis?
Evvie McKinney: Prior to the show, I was on tour a lot. I graduated high school in 2015, from the Stax Music Academy. All throughout high school, from my ninth-grade year to my twelfth-grade year, I was in the Stax Music Academy, and every practice, every rehearsal, every show just kept reassuring me that music was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, as well as performing. I knew that I wanted to die doing music and fulfilling my passion. So, after I graduated, I did not go to college. Even back to my childhood, my mama knew that I wanted to be a performer. I would always tell her that I wanted to be a superstar. When people would ask me, “What you want to be when you grow up?” I’d go up there and say, ‘Baby, I’ma be a superstar. I know I’ma be a superstar!’ [laughs] My classmates would say, “Oh, I want to be a doctor, or a psychiatrist, cosmetologist,” but not me.
Parlé Mag: [laughs] And look at you now!
Evvie McKinney: Yes! Look at me now. Before I graduated, it was probably one of the hardest years I’d had. So, at that point, it was my turn to take full control of my life for the very first time in my life. I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a superstar, and I knew in my heart that I wanted to move to New York or L.A. and just tour the world. I’d already figured out that I was going to be on somebody’s stage, and that’s how I was going to make my money. I told my mama that that’s what I wanted to do, and she knew it. She never forced me to anything else; she always told me, “Well, Evvie, if that’s what you want to do, then the Lord is going to make a way!”
Parlé Mag: Most definitely!
Evvie McKinney: He is really making a way for me, and He is really blowing my mind right now, especially with me being so young and into God. I can remember when I was between the ages of fifteen and seventeen years old, I started praying for God to step into my life and take full control, and He’s done that and more. Once I came out of high school, I started touring with my brother’s band, Gedeon Luke and The People. Touring with my blood brother–same mama and daddy–was a really powerful thing. I used to sing backup for him when I was in high school, and then it almost became both of our band. [laughs] We were touring all the time–New Jersey, New York City, Memphis, everywhere! We did so many festivals in the summertime. All of this was way before The Four. My brother had me on his payroll, and that’s how I made my money. We started selling out shows. People wanted to see the funk. They wanted the funk, and we gave them the funk. After every single show, the whole band would just be dripping in sweat because we had such a good time.
Parlé Mag: I know that had to be an awesome feeling!
Evvie McKinney: Yes! The world is just now seeing me, and they’re just now discovering who this Evvie girl is. Some of them haven’t even discovered me, and some are just playing it by ear. But I think that God has really blessed me. He’s been preparing me for this moment my whole life. He put this purpose in my heart before I was even born, before my mama and my daddy even thought of me. He said, “I want this girl from Memphis, Tennessee, Evvie McKinney, to come out and steal the whole show on The Four.” I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but He has been getting me ready this whole time.
Parlé Mag: So, being that you come from a musically-inclined background, in what way would you say that sort of molded you and built the foundation for the artist you are today?
Evvie McKinney: Aw, man! What I’ve been through and what God has brought me through, I know that it’s a reason why I am the way that I am. When you say you want to be a superstar, it’s a lot that comes with that.
Parlé Mag: Oh, I can imagine.
Evvie McKinney: So, if it’s a lot that comes with that, you know you can’t do this all by yourself! That’s number one. You can’t do it by yourself. If you don’t have a God who’s talking to you in these meetings and other high places, you won’t get far. He has always been the head of my life. What I’ve been through, it teaches me to keep going. It teaches me that this is the life that I want. This is what I’ve been praying to God for, and this is what He wants me to do. This is in His will for me to do. It’s a lot, but He’s already equipped me for everything I need. Everything I need He’s already given me it. Everything I need! All I have to do is learn and grow with Him, walk with Him and talk with Him. Like I said, He’s been preparing me this whole time. Every class, every rehearsal, everybody I’ve met in my life has shaped some type of wisdom in my mind. When you say you want to be a superstar, it’s levels to it. You got your beginning–when you’re first putting your music out, a lot of people don’t know you, and you haven’t done any live shows yet. Then, you got your middle and your end. It’s really levels to this!
Parlé Mag: Growing up, vocally and creatively, who would you say inspired you?
Evvie McKinney: See, I knew it. I told my brother Y’all were going to ask me this question! [laughs]
Parlé Mag: Hey, I had to ask! [laughs]
Evvie McKinney: It’s so hard to talk about this particular singer now because she just passed away. Ms. Aretha Franklin! The Lord knew I wanted to meet her, but I’m glad that she’s with the Father, and I know she is. But, Aretha Franklin was my biggest inspiration. Her and Tina Turner. I was five and six years old singing “Respect!” [I used to] look at Aretha’s videos and everything. I may have been young, but we heard her on the radio all the time!
Even The Staple Singers, Eddie Floyd, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding–all of that good music! One day, I saw Aretha singing “Precious Lord,” and I still sing that song all the time. When I’m in the shower getting ready, I sing it! [laughs] But I heard her version of it, and that lady spoke to my soul! The way she sang that song, the passion and the grit, the aggressiveness of her voice! It almost sounded like a trumpet from heaven! The fact that, even when I was a little girl, I could listen [to her music] and hear Jesus all through that woman, that meant she was anointed. As I said, she just spoke to my soul. She was somebody who had a whole lot of sass, just like me. They used to call her a powerhouse, and that’s exactly what she was! When I was a little girl, they called me a ‘powerhouse’ too! [laughs]
Parlé Mag: They definitely weren’t lying!
Evvie McKinney: Aw. Let me tell you another thing. Before The Four, I started performing at a club that was in the seventies and eighties, and in Memphis, it was a really, really big club for Black artists. It’s called ‘Club Paradise’. The club is located in South Memphis, and it’s off Georgia Avenue. Muddy Waters, Johnnie Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Ike and Tina Turner, Isaac Hayes–so many legends performed there. All of them! That was the place to go for Black folks. If you went there, you’d get a showdown! A soul showdown! When I walked in the building and started performing there, I could just feel that it had so much rich history, and it was so many great people who had performed in that building. I started singing, and I did “Proud Mary” down there one night, and I also did “Respect,” which was so amazing and ironic!
Parlé Mag: I can’t believe that club is still there after all of these years!
Evvie McKinney: It’s still there! They remodeled it a little bit, but the same stage that they all performed on is still right there. They haven’t touched the stage.
Parlé Mag: So, tell me this… what led to you to audition for The Four? Walk us through that process. Was it intimidating?
Evvie McKinney: Being a young, African American female artist, with as much soul as I got in my voice, it’s always nerve-racking because we live in a world where somebody might not choose you but will choose somebody else because of the color of their skin.
Parlé Mag: Sadly.
Evvie McKinney: I’m from the South, so I know how some people think. But a family friend contacted me early November. His name is Larry Dodson Jr. He’s the son of the legendary singer Larry Dodson of The Bar-Kays. He called me, and he said, “Evvie, there’s this new show on FOX, and it’s called The Four. It’s a singing competition show. I know you probably don’t want to do it, but just give it a chance.” That’s what he told me! I said, “Man, Larry, I don’t know. You know how they can be. First of all, I’m Black, so you just really don’t know,” but I ended up agreeing and asking for the contact number. He said he was in touch with an executive producer from the show. So, one of the ladies from casting sent me all of the information I needed. [Larry] called them, and we were all on three-way. She was basically asking for me to send in videos of me singing to audition for the show. I sent in one video, but she never responded. Almost a month later, she responded to that video. For a whole month, I was thinking that they weren’t going to pick me. That’s what I was thinking. Finally, she replied to my email, and you know what she told me? She told me that she had actually intended on sending that message to me earlier but must have forgotten.
Parlé Mag: See, it was meant to be!
Evvie McKinney: Yep! Then she asked, “Do you have [anymore] videos you want to send in? Do you have anything?” When she asked that, baby, I got up, I did my makeup, and I put that camera on! I sent three audition videos. I was singing one Beyoncé song, and then I was singing “Chandelier” by Sia and “Mamma Knows Best” by Jessie J. The next day, she got back to me, and she said, “Baby, you are bad!” [laughs] She said, “I’m presenting you tomorrow to the executive producers of the show!” I just couldn’t believe it. After she presented the videos, they sent me a flight ticket, and I went out there. This is when I auditioned in person. At that time, I had braids that were sweeping the floor. They were so long; they were one-hundred-inch braids. I went in to audition with the same outfit the people saw on the fifth episode.
I performed—man, I was performing, and after that, they sent me home. For about a week, we were just waiting and praying, praying and waiting. A producer sent me a message, Grant Greeley was his name, and he later became my producer for the show. He sent me a message and said, “You’re coming to Hollywood! We’ve chosen you to audition on the show!” So, I got there, and I was so excited. That was an amazing experience. At that point, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m in the door now. I’m in the building, baby!’
Parlé Mag: [laughs] Yes, in the building! How did it feel when you actually won the competition?
Evvie McKinney: When I won the competition, I felt victorious! I felt like I had won for heaven and Earth! God won my heart over even more by doing that for me, because He didn’t have to do that, but He still did it because He loves me. I won for my mama, my brothers, my sisters, and my friends. I won for them and everything I stood for.
Parlé Mag: Was it unbelievable to have the chance to work with people who we deem heavy-hitters in the industry, such as Diddy, DJ Khaled, and Meghan Trainor?
Evvie McKinney: Oh my goodness! Yes! It’s really good when they really like you and believe in you. It’s even better! These are three powerful experts! Diddy being number one, especially. Having him on my side is very, very appreciated, and it’s a blessing and a miracle to have someone as profound as Diddy believe in me, want to work with me, and want the best for me. He wants the best for me! I mean, the world looking in, people would think that Diddy would be the less involved. Baby, Diddy is the most involved. He’s the one who said “How Do You Feel” was a hit. I remember when my brother played that song for him at his house, and he was walking in his backyard listening to it. He was listening to it, girl! Diddy was literally listening to my song!
Parlé Mag: Talk about a great moment!
Evvie McKinney: Right! He was so into it; he was feeling that song! I was just in awe. This is the stuff the world doesn’t even know I experienced. I experienced a music mogul telling me that my song was an amazing song! I can’t put into words how good that felt.
Parlé Mag: Speaking of your single, “How Do You Feel,” where did the concept of it come from?
Evvie McKinney: I didn’t write the song, so let me start there. An amazing woman, Goldie, wrote the song, and she said that after she wrote the song, she saved it and stored it away, and I was the only one in the world who could sing that song the way that I sang it.
Parlé Mag: It’s a wonderful song!
Evvie McKinney: Thank you!
Parlé Mag: No problem!
Evvie McKinney: I chose “How Do You Feel” [to be the single] because of a past relationship, and that relationship also kind of grew me as a young woman, and it made me realize things about myself that I hadn’t really realized before, like my value and how important self-love and being obedient to God is. I wanted something that when people listened to it, they would have to listen to it again, and again. Not because of the way that it sounds, but the way that it feels. So, that’s why I chose “How Do You Feel.”
Parlé Mag: Can we expect a video for it in the near future?
Evvie McKinney: Yes! Yes, you can. That is actually in the works as we speak.
Parlé Mag: How was it performing it on the Teen Choice Awards, as well as season two of The Four?
Evvie McKinney: Oh my goodness! Premiering it on The Four was a moment in my life where I was the most nervous I had ever been, period!
Parlé Mag: Really? Why?
Evvie McKinney: I’ve never been that nervous in my life. I was almost like a bridezilla because I wanted everything to be perfect, and I wanted everything that I did to be felt, sincere, and genuine. I didn’t want to overthink anything, which I still did [laughs], but that was the most nervous I had ever been. It was like my first baby, my first child! I don’t think people really understand that, but when you come [on that show] as an artist, that really sets the bar for you and your career. Your first single is going to always be remembered, just like the first-season winner!
Parlé Mag: Of course! Throughout the whole journey, what would you say was the most important thing you took away from the experience and also learned about yourself?
Evvie McKinney: Throughout my whole experience on The Four, I had to take away my pride, and I took away anything else that was going to limit me to relieving something that was not sent or directed by God. I also had to be humble in everything I did, because I was in front of the best and the world. When I first got my seat and they had a little break in between recording, all of the judges came up to me and congratulated me and stuff. But one thing Diddy said was, “Don’t get too comfortable.” For me, when I heard it, I knew he meant that it was ‘go time’ and don’t get too comfortable because he knows how it can get. I still think about that all the time. Even I have to remind myself sometimes, ‘Don’t get comfortable, Evvie!’
Parlé Mag: That is so right.
Evvie McKinney: Yep!
Parlé Mag: Following your victory, you landed a deal with Republic Records, so it seems that things took off pretty fast for you. Has it been difficult to adjust to your newfound lifestyle? If so, how have you dealt with it?
Evvie McKinney: Yes! I’m dealing with it by God’s grace and mercy on my mind. My whole life has changed. I tell people all the time that it has taken a complete flip. I went from praying for what I got to having what I got that I was praying for. I have my own place; that’s very different! I would always tell my friends that I was thanking the Lord in advance for my apartment. The Lord blessed me with a house. I have my own truck, and I have my own bills, my own responsibilities. I always used to tell my mama, ‘I can’t wait until I have my own bills!’
Parlé Mag: Well, now you have them! [laughs]
Evvie McKinney: [laughs] Yes, now I have them! She would say, “Okay, you’re saying that now, but just wait!” I can’t complain though. I’m blessed to have my own bills, my own everything. Everything that the Lord has given me, I’m blessed to have it. Life is good. I moved from Memphis to L.A.
Parlé Mag: Nice! Do you like it out there?
Evvie McKinney: Oooh, girl! Moving out here meant no more collard greens, cornbread, baked chicken, yams, cabbage, pulled pork sandwiches, with slaw on the side, BBQ nachos! [laughs] No more of that!
Parlé Mag: I feel you! [laughs] Well, you can bring the Memphis to the L.A.
Evvie McKinney: I know, but everything is just so different in L.A. Even the sauces are slightly different! Things that we cook with in Memphis, they don’t cook with out here. It’s been hard! [laughs] The fact that they hardly ever get rain is a big change for me too, especially since I’m a girl who loves rain. I haven’t even seen rain, nor have I smelled it! It’s been very different, and it’s been very hot. That hasn’t changed. Aside from all of the shenanigans, L.A. is a very beautiful place, and it’s so big! It’s huge!
Parlé Mag: How often do you see your family now? Since you’re not in Memphis anymore.
Evvie McKinney: I see my family every day. Every single day. I’m a cancer, and I’m a very sensitive woman. Family is everything to me. My brother, Emmanuel–who, in my past, was my ninth-grade biology teacher and my dean of students in my junior and senior year—he quit his job, moved down here, and started managing me.
Parlé Mag: That’s dope!
Evvie McKinney: My other brother, Gedeon, he’s always here. He’s back-and-forth all the time because he’s actually on tour with his band, that I miss and love so much, right now.
Parlé Mag: As you progress in your career, what do you want people to understand about you, as an artist and as a young woman?
Evvie McKinney: I want people to understand freedom. I want them to understand pain and passion. I want that because I just feel like, right now, the world is in a place where it’s needing something completely different than what’s going on at the moment. It’s needing love and peace. We all say that we want peace, we want all of the guns to be put down, and we want people to think right, but if we’re not putting pride to the things that is for them to get right and listen to, then we can’t expect for the peace and love to really flow the way that it can flow. I want young women and young men, everybody, but specifically the younger generation, like myself, to look at me and get inspired. I want them to get motivated, dedicated. I want them to see that you don’t have to be ashamed of loving God because of what the world wants to hear from you and what they expect from you.
You don’t have to be ashamed of your story; you don’t have to be ashamed of where you came from. You don’t have to be ashamed of where God put you, but you better know where He’s taking you. I think, as a young woman and young people… period, we kind of forget that. We get so caught up in partying, love, each other, and things that are just here for the moment, and we tend to forget what we really need to be working on, which is our hearts. I want people to listen to my music and say, “First of all, who is she? Where did she come from?” [laughs] I really want them to feel every word I ever sing, whether it’s on key or off key. I want them to feel it. That is just going to stop people in their tracks, and it’s really going to make them listen.
Just like how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did; he made people listen. Whether you wanted to listen or not, you were going to listen to him! That’s how he brought people together. He brought people together with love, his words, and the power that God instilled in him. So, I just want to bring the people together in love, in music, and in harmony. In Jesus name, that is all.
Parlé Mag: What words of encouragement would you give to those who also aspire to become a part of the music business?
Evvie McKinney: I would say, don’t get comfortable. Don’t stop. Please, don’t ever stop, and don’t let the enemy try to persuade you from doing something that you know you’re going to end up doing anyway. You know in your heart that you love to sing, and you love doing music, so don’t let anybody stop you. Believe in God, and then believe in yourself. Believe that the way is already made because it is already made. We live in time, He doesn’t. The way is already made. All you have to do is believe. Just believe! Even when the way seems rocky, when you can’t see, when you don’t even know why you’re going through what you’re going through, believe. When you are living in an overflow, you still need to keep believing. Don’t stop believing, don’t stop talking to Him just because He’s doing what He promised you. His promises never change. We change, but He won’t change, so just keep believing. That’s exactly what I would say.
Parlé Mag: Great advice!
Evvie McKinney: I’m just speaking from the heart.
Parlé Mag: What’s next for you? Is there an album or a tour on the way?
Evvie McKinney: Oh, yes ma’am! I’m so excited! What’s next is a “How Do You Feel” video, and I’m ecstatic about that whole concept. Laurieann Gibson is in charge of the creativity behind it, and I just know that whatever she does, it’s going to be amazing because she’s amazing. For my album, let me just say this, it’s going to be the most inspirational, lit, feel-good album of the year!
Parlé Mag: I believe it!
Evvie McKinney: It definitely will! Right now, I’ve already recorded over eighteen songs.
Parlé Mag: Oh, wow!
Evvie McKinney: Y’all are going to love every last one of them. Again, God is just blowing my mind. Sometimes I record these songs and don’t know how they’re going to turn out, but I just know that people are really going to enjoy listening and feeling my music. We’re not sure of a title for the album right now; we’re not focused on the title, but it’s going to be an amazing album. I’m very confident in my first album! Thank the Lord. So, just stay tuned!
Catch up with Evvie McKinney on social media!
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