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The road to ‘The Voice’ for Ruby Leigh

Posted on Thursday, February 1, 2024 at 8:18 pm

THE VOICE — “Live Finale, Part 2” Episode 2422B — Pictured: (l-r) Reba McEntire, Ruby Leigh — (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

Editor’s Note: In this first of a four-part series, “An Interview With Ruby Leigh, And Her Family,” Lincoln County’s most famous singer recalls the day she found her “voice,” why she hates being called an “overnight success” and her early childhood memories of a tornado that she believes God not only protected her, but blessed her as well with her natural, musical ability.

Lincoln County Journal Publisher Gregory Orear interviewed Ruby about a month after her second place finish on The Voice. Her family, including her father (Casey), mother (Terri) and her sister (Sandra/Grumpy), were encouraged to participate in the interview, which they freely did.

By Gregory Orear

Journal Publisher

Greg: So let’s start with life before The Voice. Ruby, with a lot of musical talent, it seems like its almost inherited, that it comes down through the family, because obviously, your story seems like it’s like a God-given gift, a natural ability. So my question is, are there other musicians in the family here, or is this.

Ruby: Well, not this family.

Terri (mom): I mean, maybe our parents. But they’re gone.

Ruby: No, none of my family is musical. No one sings or plays instruments. It’s kind of just me. And it’s really weird.

Casey (Dad): Kind of just you? No, it’s just you.

Sandra/Grumpy (sister): I failed music class in third grade, if that’s something to add. I thought you had to show up and you, like, pass. Guess not.

Greg: I know we’ve heard the story before, but tell us again how you discovered your musical ability.

Ruby: My Dad used to race cars. And I went into his racecar shop one of day, and he was playing classic country music. And I said “Dad, what the heck are you listening to?” Because I’d never heard it before. He never played it around me. My family didn’t play a lot of music then. And he says, “well, don’t come down here running down my music. My music tells a story. You got to listen to the story before you hear the beautiful music.” I was like, OK. I was nine. So I’m listening to this song, and then after a few minutes, I said, “Dad, I hear it. I hear the story.” And my Dad’s like, “good.” And then another song came on. I started singing along with it. My Dad was underneath this racecar. He rolls out and about hit his head on the fender, and he was looking at me real funny. And I’m like, “what?” He goes back under the car. Another song comes on. I start singing along to this one. My Dad rolls out, and he’s looking at me funny again. I said, “what Dad?” And he was like, “you know, that sounds actually pretty good.” I said, “really?” And he was like, “yeah.” And the song was “Dublin Blues” by Guy Clark. And my Dad looked at me, and he said, “Well, how about you learn that song for me? That happens to be one of my favorites.” Then I run back down to the house. Next day, come back up. I’m like, “Dad, what’s the name of that song?”

Casey: That old song.

Ruby: That old song. Yeah, that old song you wanted me to learn. And my Dad says, “Oh, it’s the ‘Dublin Blues’ by Guy Clark.” So I went back down to the house and was singing it and singing it, singing it. I came back up and I came in and I asked my Dad “Hey, Dad, are you busy?” And he said, “Well, yes, I’m busy.” Because usually when I asked that it means, hey, can you fix my bike chain or something? He said, “What do you want?” I’m told him, “Well, I wanted to sing that song for you.” And he was like, “OK, I got time. So he got out. He said, “All right, well, go down to the house and grab your words and I’ll listen to it. I ain’t got all day.” I was like, “Well, I don’t need the words. I learned it.” And my Dad said, “You don’t need the words?” I’m like, “No.” He’s said “So you’re telling me you learned the whole song by memory and you don’t need the words. “Yeah.” He said “All right. I find that hard to believe, but let it rip, tater chip.” And I started singing it, and I sang it about 10 times. And then my Dad ended up, he had me go up on the top of the hill and posted a video of me singing it on his Facebook page. And a lot of his friends are like, great job.”

Casey: I made her sing it multiple times because I wanted to make sure I thought it sounded good enough to at least post on the internet, and I wasn’t going to be “that” guy. It’s like, “Hey, look at my little girl!” And then later find out, that she’s horrible. So, I posted it. Her mother didn’t even know at the time, she was gone. She didn’t even know she started singing the day. And so after I heard her sing for the first time, she used to get embarrassed to no end. And when I told her she sounded really good, she turned all red.

Greg: What as the reaction to the video?

Casey: We immediately started getting comments and likes and all kinds of reaction to it. And my wife was driving home and her phone was getting all these notifications. Ding, ding, ding. She had to pull off the road to see what was going on because she thought something was wrong. And she watches the video and she calls me and is like “what in the heck is going on? When did Ruby start singing?” I’m like, “30 minutes ago, I guess.” She says, “What do you think? What do you think? Do you see all the things these people are saying?” I said, “I do, but those are our friends, race fans, family. I said, What are they going to say? She’s horrible. Please don’t ever post another video? I said, you can’t really take anything from that.”

Greg: So now you, I guess, discovered this rare talent in your family, what do you do next?

Casey: Well, the next week, it was the next week, wasn’t it? We went to the flea market. We used to go to flea markets and look for old antiques and anyway, we pull up and there’s two guys that are picking and singing. And Ruby said, “Look, Dad.” I said, yeah, there’s a couple of boys up here picking and singing. Didn’t think nothing of it. I turned around and I could just feel Ruby behind me. I mean, it’s hard to describe, but I just knew that I could feel her just expanding behind me. And she goes, “I wonder if they’d let me sing?” And I stopped, stood there for a second. I turned around, I looked at Ruby, and I said, “Ruby, I have no idea.” And she goes, “I wonder if they would.”

I’m thinking to myself, she wants to get up there and sing. And at that time, I don’t know how I felt about that. I was probably more nervous than she was. But I turned around and I looked her in the eye, and I said, “Ruby, I have no idea, but I can guarantee you one thing. 100 percent money back guarantee.” She says, what? I said, “You see the old boys on the hill there? Up there picking and singing?” “Yeah.” I said, “I promise you, neither one of those guys are going to get off them stools and come down to the crowd and say, hey, is Ruby Leigh here? Would you like to have her sing a song?” Ruby said, OK. She said, “I’ll ask him, but will you go up there with me?” And I said, “yeah, I’ll go up there with you.” So we walked up to the top of the hill. All of us walked up there, and at this point, she knew one song that we knew of. So they just finished up, and they turned to us and turned to me first, said, “How you doing today, buddy?” And I said, man, I’m doing good. How are you all doing? “We’re doing great.” Ruby was right there next to me. And they said, “How are you doing, young lady?” Ruby just about starts crying, I mean, just trying to get this out. And she says, “Can I sing a song?” And they’re like, “Uhh.” It just really took them off guard. But at that time, the Disney show, what was it?

Grumpy: Frozen, “Let it Go.”

Casey: All the kids were singing that. And anyway, they said, “Well, what would you like to sing?” And Ruby says, “How about the ‘Dublin Blues’ by Guy Clark?” And these guys mouths dropped open and they looked at each other, and the one says, “Do you know that song?” He goes, “No, I don’t know it.” And they go, “I’m sorry, but we don’t know that.” This is the part where we walk back down the hill and this is over with. And they said, “Do you know any other songs?” And Ruby says, “How about ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive’ by Patty Loveless?” And they didn’t know it. And I’m sitting here thinking, do you know this?

Well, anyway, make a long story short, they ask her several different times, you know, anything else? You know anything else? Well, she had already memorized, like, eight or 10 songs. And he said, “Well, how about this? It’s pretty obvious we’re not going to know any of your music, but how about if you just sang acapella?” Ruby stood there for a minute, kind of had her head down, and she goes, “I don’t think I know that one.” And they said, no, “that means without any music.”

So she got up and started singing acapella. And at the bottom of the hill, they started a little group of people, a little half circle. Well, that half circle grew to two deep to three deep to four deep to people coming up the hill dropping tips in a tip bucket. And she ended up, she sang, I don’t know, probably seven or eight songs that day. And they told her “hey, anywhere you see us, you’re more than welcome to sing with us anytime. And as a matter of fact, we have a show next weekend at Pumpkin’s Galore in Wright City. If you’re not busy, come out there.” Well, Ruby goes, “Well, maybe if I’m not busy, maybe we can come out.”

Greg: So she played it cool at first, even at nine.

Grumpy: Yeah. That whole business front from the get go.

Casey: Yeah, then we go to turn and walk down the hill as we’re leaving after that, she grabs me by the arm and says “Daddy, please, please, will you take me out there?” So that’s kind of how it started.”

Greg: Ruby, what do you remember of that day, standing on that hill.

Ruby: Yeah, I remember getting up there and singing, or standing on my left side next to them, playing and looking down this hill, like there’s a crowd of people. And I don’t know. I don’t think I remember being nervous, really. I was just like, hey, I’m singing.

Greg: Before you suddenly started singing one day, surely you were singing on some levels but were you just too embarrassed to sing out?

Ruby: No. When I was in my Dad’s racecar shop, that was the first time I ever sang. I never sang before, like, never.

Greg: Never? Not even Disney songs?

Ruby: No. I just never had the feeling that I wanted to sing until I started singing, like, classic country and Ernest Tubb. And I was like, hey, I want to sing.

Casey: All 9-year-olds are inspired by Ernest.

Greg: You also talked about your seemingly natural ability to memorize songs. Have you been able to apply that skill elsewhere? Do you have, generally speaking, a great memory?

Ruby: Not really. It’s literally just music. Like lyrics. I can remember song lyrics, chords, certain words, but nothing else. No, seriously, it’s sad. I couldn’t tell you what I wore yesterday. I don’t know what I ate yesterday. It’s just horrible. I have a horrible memory.

Casey: Your requests?

Ruby: I can’t remember audience requests at shows, but I can remember the words. I don’t know. It’s really weird.

Grumpy: I think all her brainpower goes to the songs and the lyrics, just not anything else.

Ruby: I think I was just like, born to be a musician.

Greg: Everybody knows about your voice and we saw you play the guitar on “The Voice,” but I’m going to guess you bring a little bit more to the table in terms of musical abilities.

Ruby: Well, obviously the yodeling thing is me, but I play a lot of different instruments. I’m not saying I play them all well, but I know enough to get by on other instruments. I think I know like 15 instruments.

Greg: So are we talking wind instruments then as well, beyond string instruments?

Ruby: Not really. Mainly strings. Like dulcimer. Banjo, mando.

Terri: Drums every now and again.

Ruby: Yeah, drums. Sometimes the fiddle. Harmonica.

Casey: And the keyboard.

Ruby: Keyboard, yeah, I’m trying to think. The bass. I don’t get to play it often because I don’t really have any songs for them, but, yeah, a lot of different aspects, and I try to work on songwriting and things like that, so I feel like that’s like my musical range.

Greg: So you are working on songwriting then as well?

Ruby: Yeah, I’m going to release an album this year, so I’m going to try to get something out with mainly originals. But I’ve had so many requests to put out the songs from the shows. I’m going to put some songs from the show on there, too.

Greg: All of those musical instruments, your voice, all of that, have you received any kind of formal training? Have you taken lessons, or is this just kind of self-taught?

Ruby: I’ve never had a voice lesson before “The Voice.” Being on the show, I had to, but they didn’t really teach me anything because every time I went in, they’re like, “I don’t know what to say.” So thought at least I’m doing it right. I took guitar lessons for two years, probably.

Grumpy: She had already taught herself a bunch of chords, and she just wanted to learn how to play the lead guitar. Like the riffs, stuff like that.

Ruby: I mean, I learned a bunch of chords before I went, and then I wanted to learn how to solo and do things like that and scales and all the proper stuff and theory. So then I took guitar lessons for that, but as much like, for the chords, I kind of taught myself them.

Greg: So you find out you’ve got this natural ability, you’re nine years old at this point. You played there at the flea market. You go down to the pumpkin festival, and you start dibble dabbling around here. Where do you go from there? How do you get from there to on The Voice?

Ruby: Well, there’s a lot of years between that, obviously. But one thing, since being on the show, I’ve had so many people tell me that was an overnight success, which I hate that, because I’ve been playing since I was 9 years old and doing over 200 shows a year leading up to that. It’s just work. I feel like, honestly, I just got my first big break, really. But I’ve played a lot of different shows. I’ve opened for different celebrities and things like that.

Casey: Throw some names out there. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Ruby: Yeah. I did a pre show for Clint Black, Tracy Lawrence. I played with Lori Morgan, Pam Tillis, Mickey Gilly, Johnny Lee, Rhonda Vincent, Tony Jackson, a lot of different people before being on the show, so I’ve already had a pretty good start. But obviously, being on The Voice, it has taken my career to a totally different level because now, you know, exposure to people that would have never seen me before, like, millions of people.

Casey: T.G. Sheppard is following you and said you’re a voice of a generation. You are exactly what country music needs.

Grumpy: Winona said that too, and Reba.

Ruby: Yeah, it’s really cool to see all the new people that I’ve been able to reach by being on the show, which is honestly my favorite thing about it. And I have all these new fans that have never seen me before, would never get the chance to see me that know about me now. So I think that’s one of the best parts about being on the show and all those years leading up to it. I think that’s why this is, like, my big moment.

Grumpy: Tell him about Adam Wainwright, because that’s part of the story.

Casey: Adam Wainwright had an open competition karaoke contest, meaning it was open to anyone, you know, they could be professionals. Her sister saw it. She was so proud of herself. It was on the radio. She said, “I’ve got a gig for Ruby. She’s gonna sing.” And I’m like, what are you talking about? And so we tried to figure it out. Well, she didn’t sign her up for anything. She just bought tickets to the event. Well, you had to send a video in on Twitter, and we didn’t know anything about Twitter. And this is the last day, the day before the deadline. So we download Twitter and she’s tweeting and I guess just bombarding them and then asking them “did you get it, did you get it, it is my little sister.”

Grumpy: I sent it like 40 or 50 times. And finally, they’re like “we got it!”

Casey: So we show up there and what she got her into was actually a group of 12 people vying for the two final spots in the competition. So she’s not even in a competition. And Ruby’s obviously the youngest one there. She’s 9. She’s never seen karaoke in her life. Ruby doesn’t want to sing karaoke because she never done it. She wants to sing acapella because that’s all that she knew how to do.

So Ruby gets out there and she’s singing “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man” by Loretta Lynn. And we’re backstage. We don’t get to see any of the crowd or anything but this place just goes nuts. All kinds of screaming and hollering. The guys from The Bull (radio station) told me, “I’ve never seen anything like that.” It was at a Dave and Buster’s and people were coming out of the arcade. There’s monitors back there. But they were coming out just to get up there to look up at the stage.

Well, they went through the 12 and they said, we’re going to do a hand over the head, you know, audience participation to see who gets the final two that go into the competition. And anyway, the guy walks up on stage, you walk straight to Ruby and grabs her by the wrist and says, I think we all know Ruby’s going through and the place goes nuts again. She sang her way all the way to the finals of it and ended up third.

Grumpy: You forgot a part of that. They were only going to have one winner and they made it the top three.

Casey: Yeah, they were only going to have one winner and then they ended up, they gave out three prizes because they wanted Ruby on the radio with them. Anyway, so they did that. But as we’re leaving, Adam Wainwright’s got this big line of people wanting autographs and Ruby says “Bye Adam.” Adam’s says “Ruby, hang on,” and turns to the people, he goes, “guys, will you give me five minutes? I promise I’ll be right back.”

So he comes over to Ruby and he says, “Ruby, I was wondering if you’d do me a favor? “Yeah.” He said, “If you do me this favor, I’ll make you a promise. If you will autograph my cellphone, I promise you, I will retire the cellphone tonight. I’ll take it home and I’ll put it my safe. I’ll go out tomorrow morning and buy a brand new phone and I will keep this one in a safe until one day in the future, when you’re singing at sold out shows at big stadiums.” He said, “Girl, you’re gonna be a star.” And anyway, that was really cool. And then she sang with him a couple of times after that.

And she got her first guitar, which did not have a plugin in it. And she was doing a show, so they needed to have a plugin, you know, a jack for it. So we bought a pickup that went in the sound hole. It looked horrible. We had to use tape to hold it down. Adam said, “Ruby, you don’t have a guitar that plugs in the back?” And Ruby says, no. Well, probably a month or two later, Adam calls asking if we could come over to his house.

We get to his house but he’s not there … he had an emergency meeting as that was when he signed that first one-year contract. Anyway, this lady calls and Adam said “take them into the living room and I have something for them. Call me on FaceTime real quick.” So Ruby called him up and on FaceTime, went in there, and here’s this guitar sitting in there and it’s an Epiphone Hummingbird which is what Loretta Lynn played.

Greg: So Ruby, it sounds like those years between nine and “The Voice” really prepared you for that specific opportunity at that specific time.

Ruby: Yeah, definitely. Like going out. I don’t get nervous for shows. I’ve never gotten stage fright or anything. And just, going out, I always just had to remind myself, this is no different than any other show you’ve ever played. It’s just people you’re singing for. The coaches are just people. It’s no different. It’s just like singing at a show. I think it definitely prepared me to be able to get out there and do my job.

Greg: Well, 200 shows a year will do that for you. It becomes muscle memory. You had mentioned on the show when you were really young that you and your family survived a tornado, which had a big impact on you personally. What do you remember from that day, and how does that continue to affect you?

Ruby: Yeah, well, the tornado, it was in 2011, and I definitely remember it. You don’t forget traumatic things. I mean, you’ll forget some great things that have happened, but traumatic things always stick with you. And I remember everything, like being in the bathroom and then walking out. I remember I had a (rubber) duck under a two by four that was hanging, and everything was just like, to shreds. But what was really weird about that was our bathroom was protected. I feel like God was protecting us there because the bathroom was almost perfectly fine. And then walking out, everything else was just destroyed. And there was like a 50-foot cinder block wall.

Casey: It wasn’t that big. It was only about 30-foot.

Ruby: I don’t know. I don’t know the dimensions. But it was a big cinder block wall. And we found out a few years later, that the tornado was abnormal. Most tornadoes go counterclockwise, but this one was going clockwise. So instead of blowing this cinder block wall on top of us, it blew it away from us. And it was only 2 percent of tornadoes that ever do that. They’re like very rare. So I feel like that was another thing that was God watching over us so it wouldn’t fall on top of us and crush us. I remember walking out and seeing our car. It looked like it had rolled down a hill at least a 1,000 times. It was a very crazy day. Yeah. And I was four. I was getting ready to turn four. But I remember when we first got there, my Dad, there’s a whole long story, but my Dad wanted me to stay in the car.

Casey: I just had to run in and grab a key. So it only takes just a second.

Ruby: So my mom was like, OK.

Casey: And obviously we had no idea that the tornado was …

Sandra: … there was no warning.

Ruby: There was no sirens, nothing. So they were just like, she’ll be fine. My mom got out, my Dad got halfway out, and then he was like, “you know what? I’m actually going to grab Ruby.” My mom is like, okay, you just changed your mind in half a second. So they got me out. And then after the tornado, there was a two by four through my car seat. There was glass in my car seat and my car seat was just destroyed. So it was just like this whole thing that God was definitely looking over me. And that’s why I definitely feel like I was blessed with my voice. I don’t think it was just that I just taught myself.

Greg: When you shared that experience on “The Voice,” you got emotional, you got choked up and it was obvious that that caused you some pain.

Ruby: Yeah, absolutely.

Greg: A lot of times with artists, whether a painter or an actor or writer or a musician will say they draw on their personal pain to make whatever they do well, great. Do you find yourself doing that at times with that experience?

Ruby: Definitely. In some ways, it’s not something I like to dwell on, you know. When you’re in the car, your windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror for a reason. So I like to leave the things behind me and then keep going forward because there’s more to look forward to than to just dwell on something that happened which can limit your experiences and limit what you really want to do.

So I think about it, obviously, sometimes, and then I’m like, I do want to write a song about something like this or put that emotion in a thing, which, being on the show, I did have to dig deep into that kind of emotion for sad songs. Obviously, I didn’t sing a song about being in a tornado, but one thing Reba was telling me was to really connect to a song, put that emotion into the song. Like you’re that person because you’re a storyteller, being a singer as well. So I had to reach back into things like that. But as of right now, I don’t really go back to that a whole lot. But I feel like if I had to, to really get a killer song, I might.

Editor’s Note: In next week’s installments, Ruby talk’s about her time on “The Voice.”