Kane Brown turned Facebook likes into a country music career

Kane Brown pictured during an interview in Nashville

As a kid, Kane Brown and his mother used to sing together as pretend “American Idol” contestants.

But when Brown actually tried out for the show years later, he kept getting rejected or stereotyped.

“They told me they didn’t need another Scotty McCreery,” Brown said. “I tried out for ‘X Factor’ and they put me in a boy band and I ended up quitting.”

So the 23-year-old singer from the Tennessee-Georgia border near Chattanooga turned to Facebook to find an audience for iPhone videos of himself singing covers of songs like “Check Yes or No,” by George Strait, a video that’s been viewed 11 million times.

“I had like 3,000 friends on Facebook,” Brown said. “I felt like if they thought I was good enough, they would at least help me share my videos a little bit. One day it went viral.”

Brown turned those popular Facebook videos into a dedicated fan base that propelled him to a No. 1 debut on Billboard Top Country Albums chart in December. He had the best country debut in two years in a genre where fans still primarily discover new artists through the radio. He’s had three songs in the top 5 of Billboard’s Country Digital Songs Sales, but he’s only had one song crack the Top 40 for country airplay.

Showcasing his deep baritone voice, Brown’s revealing self-titled album is mostly autobiographical with songs about his deep love for his grandparents, his struggles with racism and growing up without a lot of money. One of the standout tracks on the album, “Learning,” starts off with his experience of being beaten as a child by a stepdad.

“I was honestly nervous about even putting it on the album, but it had such a personal message to me,” Brown said. “I just want to help kids that are going through bullying or racism.”

Kristin M. Hall, AP

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