Jordan Smith on Overcoming Self-Esteem Issues (and Being Called 'Ma'am'): 'Music Saved My Life,' Says the Singer
"At the end of the day, I knew I could sing and I knew it was the thing I could fall back on," Smith tells PEOPLE exclusively
But the singer – who grew up in Harlan, Kentucky and took home the crown last season – wasn’t always so secure in his own skin.
“It took me a long time to become confident,” he tells PEOPLE exclusively, adding that the biggest part of his insecurity stemmed from his high-pitched voice.
Says Smith: “All the time, I get called ma’am – on the phone, in the drive-through. Even now, people on the Internet are convinced I’m transgender. That weighs on you when you’re young and still trying to figure out who you are. It would have [gotten to me] a long time ago, but not anymore.”
For much more on Jordan Smith’s journey to self-acceptance and his plans for the future (including a wedding!), pick up the newest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
In high school, the budding star focused his energy on singing, and began to find his own identity. “It’s been a slow-growing process,” he says. “Just because people don’t bully you directly doesn’t mean they don’t cause you to feel like a lesser person. As I started to become better at music, I saw that my singing could move people and that’s when I started to gain confidence.”
Smith also sees music as an extension of his faith. “When I sing in church, it’s how I connect to God,” he says. “There’s no certain way you have to look or be. It’s just your voice and music from your heart.”
“Music saved me,” says Smith. “It opened up my world and made my life a lot more beautiful. At the end of the day, I knew it was the thing I could fall back on, and it kept me on the right path.”