At 16, Avery Wilson won over the judges on season 3 of The Voice with his blind audition cover of David Guetta-Usher hit “Without You.” He joined Team Cee Lo but was booted too soon in a battle round – but three years later, he’s doing just fine.
Wilson recently signed with Clive Davis, making him the first artist the megaproducer has taken under his wing in years. (Rounding out his talented team of advisers is manager Sean Garrett, who’s produced 18 No. 1 hits.)
Last week, Wilson, now 19, released his first single, “If I Have To,” and returned to the NBC talent show to perform the soaring track.
PEOPLE caught up with the rising star after his return to The Voice stage.
How has life changed since you did the show?
The Voice really opened up the door for me to learn things about myself and as an artist – that I really can focus in and just get the hard work done. I learned that I’m a lot stronger than I was before. I used to not be able to take certain criticisms that could help me constructively. I wasn’t able to take them as easy as I do now and just understand that it’s for the betterment of me and my artistry.
And just learning the dos and the don’ts. It’s really just a good preparation for what I’m doing now with Clive Davis and Sean Garrett. To be a part of such a team is incredible. I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot and I’m still learning.
What have you been up to the past three years?
I’ve been doing a lot of developing. I signed my deal with RCA, and I just started performing my first single, “If I Have To.”
What was it like returning to The Voice stage?
Going back and performing and having that opportunity to perform my own music, my single, was incredible. When I first got eliminated off the show, I didn’t understand why this door was closing – I didn’t see the other door opening. Where I am now is this great moment. I get to work with such legends and be in such a good position.
Are you still in touch with Cee Lo or any of the coaches?
Yeah, I do stay in touch with Cee Lo. I’ve seen him at a couple of different events. He’s doing well. We always keep up here and there. We’ll text and say “hi” and for the holidays and things like that. We have a really genuine relationship.
After your performance, did any of the coaches come up to you and give you advice or congratulations?
After the show, Adam came up to me and congratulated me, which felt really good because he’s a hard critic but super, super talented. It was really just an amazing moment for me to be back and share that with my team and old coaches that I used to be in front of as a contestant and now I’m in front of as an artist.
Clive Davis really took you under his wing, which is huge, congrats! What does that feel like? Intimidating?
Clive is such a genuine, hardworking person and he’s loving and caring. There’s no such thing as intimidation when it comes to him. Really, it just inspires me to work harder and actually live up to something because the people he has worked with – these legends, these great artists that I used to look up to as a little kid and still do now musically – it’s inspired me so much. It’s always a learning experience; it’s always pushing me to be better.
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You’ve got a pretty great manager, too, with Sean Garrett – he’s written/produced for some greats (Britney Spears, Beyoncé). What have you learned working with him?
Honestly working with Sean is incredible. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor or a better guide. There’s many things that he’s taught me but the most important thing is hard work never goes unnoticed and hard work is hard work. You have to put in the time and you have to put in all the extra blood, sweat and tears so when it actually works it’s beautiful, it’s perfect, it’s magic.
When can we expect an album?
We’re in the beginning process of finding the right songs and just trying to get it right. Making sure the songs are tailored to me and can show who I really am.
What direction are you going for with your music/sound?
There’s a pop influence, but it’s a little bit of everything. I’m excited to show my different layers.
Is there anyone you’d really like to collaborate with?
Well, I would love to collaborate and do a duet with Beyoncé or Rihanna. Those are my two big ones right now because they’re so powerful and so dope as artists.
Did they inspired you while growing up?
Oh yeah. They have really big records, they have really big hits, and they’re the top of the top. The best of the best. It’s always an experience watching them do what they do. It teaches me a lot just by watching.