How the summer of 2015 marked a turning point in Christian Hudson’s musical career
18-year-old Christian Hudson stood on stage at the 2015 Calgary Stampede Talent Search preparing to perform, having never been to a guitar or singing lesson in his life.
Hudson had already made it through to the finals and would soon play his last performance in front of hundreds of listeners and a panel of judges.
Alone in the spotlight with nothing but his voice, a loop pedal and a guitar covered in tape and Sharpie, Hudson began to play his rendition of Be My Husband by Nina Simone.
Later that night, Hudson would go on to win the competition and shock everyone by donating the grand prize of $10,000 to the Calgary Drop-In Centre.
The summer of 2015 was a whirlwind for the Airdrie musician, full of new adventures and opportunities. Now, almost a year later, 19-year-old Hudson is turning his success into a career.
“I always thought I was going to be acting for some reason,” says Hudson. “As soon as I graduated, I got a regular job and then I kind of stumbled into music by accident.”
Though music wasn’t something Hudson originally thought of pursuing, he had been playing guitar for years and already had some experience on the stage.
“I remember in middle school, the cool thing was playing the guitar so I wanted to be one of the cool kids,” he says. “My parents wouldn’t get me a guitar because they totally saw right through it so I spent a couple years begging for one. When they realized, ‘You actually want it, you don’t just want it to fit in with everyone else,’ they kind of jumped on board. As soon as I got the guitar, because I’d been deprived of it for a couple years, I just couldn’t put it down.”
Immediately after receiving the guitar, Hudson taught himself to play it with help from the internet and a couple of friends.
However, he says his first guitar was fairly low quality so he bought himself a new guitar as soon as he could – the smallest one available with good reviews.
“I drove a minivan for all of high school so as soon as I graduated, I just swore that I would never drive a minivan again. I went out and I bought a motorcycle because I was desperate to drive something cool and I figured once I had this motorcycle and I was playing guitar, I needed something that could fit on my back.”
At that point, Hudson was also playing at a number of open mic nights around Airdrie and Calgary. He was working at a vehicle auction at the time and needed something to do.
“I was working the most boring job in the world so it was the only thing that kept life interesting,” he says.
With his small guitar, nicknamed Little Martin, in tow, Hudson quickly became a regular at various open mics.
The road to success
Later on in the year, Hudson became interested in entering the Calgary Stampede Talent Search after learning that several fellow Airdrie musicians had gone far in the competition in the past.
Hudson enlisted the help of his friend, Paige Johnson while preparing for the competition and says she was the one that encouraged him to play Be My Husband.
Johnson says the two of them have been friends for over two years and originally bonded over music. She says they played together regularly so she immediately knew which song he should perform.
“The day before the audition to originally get into the competition, he called me over and he was freaking out because he didn’t know what song to do and he didn’t know what he was doing. He showed me a couple and out of the three or four that he showed me, that one felt the most like Christian.”
The two of them worked on the song for a couple of hours, perfecting the vocals, the guitar parts and use of the loop pedal.
Hudson says he was inspired by Ed Sheeran’s cover of the song and decided to put in his own twist. He also liked the idea of singing something different.
“I figured because all the other singers in the competition were like 100 times better than me at singing, I just had to beat them out by being weird and individualistic.”
Hudson flew through the levels of competition, making it from the top 60, to the top 25 and finally to the top 12.
Johnson was in Italy during the Calgary Stampede and missed the majority of the competition but made it back in time for the finals. Though she was extremely jetlagged, she says watching the performance made it worth it.
“When I saw it last time, we were sitting at his kitchen table and he was showing me with a really crappy mic. It was fantastic even in that room but when I saw him get on stage, I really saw the performer in him. He’s got a phenomenal voice, there’s no doubt about that, but his stage presence is what stands him apart from anybody else that I’ve seen.”
Johnson says she immediately knew it was a winning performance and was proven right when the winner was announced and a cheque was brought out with Hudson’s name on it.
“When his name got called, the entire audience, whether you knew him or didn’t know him, it just erupted. It was loud, it was exciting.”
A bigger cause
Not only did he win the competition, but immediately after being presented the check, Hudson announced that he would be donating the entire $10,000 to the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre.
Hudson says he just knew that some people could use the money more than him.
“I was just thinking about regardless of how stupid I behave and how ridiculous my actions are, I’m always pretty lucky with what I’ve got. I grew up in a nice, comfy little town. I’ve got really great parents and I figure, even if everything went south with music, I’d go back to my folks and say, I need a place to crash for a while until I get a regular job. I’m put together enough that I don’t think I would ever be homeless so I figured the money should go somewhere where people are a little less lucky.”
The musician also has firsthand experience with having no place to stay, resulting in a night spent outside.
During the competition, not wanting to waste gas on driving to Airdrie and back again the next day, Hudson made the decision to camp out along the shore of the Bow River instead.
“I’m just cheap – that’s pretty much it,” he says. “There’s some people who get really sympathetic and sorry for me and they don’t realize, I was just being stupid. I kind of romanticized homelessness but then I met some homeless people and learned what it’s really like.”
Before settling down for the night, Hudson met two homeless men who told him about their experiences. Though Hudson describes his own experience as much like camping, their stories stuck with him.
Johnson says she hadn’t heard about Hudson’s adventure until he revealed it publicly after being presented the cheque, but she wasn’t taken aback by either his story or his generosity.
“Going with the spontaneity of his personality, I wasn’t surprised,” she says. “His whole thing in life is to make moments and make adventures so he’ll take every opportunity. He also just has this heart where he just wants to help everybody he can.”
As the first person in the Talent Search’s 35 years to donate his winnings, Hudson received media attention across Canada and even as far away as Europe.
But Hudson says publicity was never his intent, he just thought other people needed the money more than him.
More than a one-hit wonder
Hudson’s manager, Peter Kaz, sees many young artists but was particularly amazed by Hudson after hearing him for the first time at a coffee shop in downtown Calgary about a month after the Stampede.
Kaz, who has been in the music industry for around 30 years, says he didn’t know much about Hudson’s recent win or the donation but was struck by the obvious talent and confidence he exudes on stage.
“I was really impressed with his stage presence and his originals and even how he altered the covers to make them his own. For somebody that young to have his ability to play guitar, his amazing voice – it was pretty much the entire package.”
Since then, Hudson has used his momentum to make a name for himself in both Airdrie and Calgary.
On top of playing many gigs throughout the two cities, Hudson has dedicated his own time to helping with charities and has even played multiple concerts at the Drop-In Centre.
He has also been writing a lot of his own music and says an EP is in the works. He hopes to have a single on the radio sometime over the summer.
Though Hudson never thought he would end up in the music industry, he says there’s nothing else he would rather be doing, adding that the people who have supported him and the community he grew up in have made all the difference.
“I was just thinking about how lucky I was to be born in a city that’s nice and small and close knit where it’s small enough that it’s easy to make a wave but then we’re right by a city that’s large enough to thrive. It’s the perfect situation where I can get so much support from the small city and then still be able to go out into a way bigger community where I have the potential to make a living.”
Hudson says throughout the whole experience, the positive reaction and support from the community has made it all worth it.
Johnson, who has been behind him every step of the way, says she knows that he won’t stop here.
“All I know at this point is whatever he does, he’s going to move mountains with his music.”
Thumbnail image by Jolene Rudisuela
- By Jolene Rudisuela