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Wesley Nilsen Wins the 2017 Sugar Land Superstar Contest

Wesley Nilsen in his winning Superstar performance. (Photo – Terry Turner Photography)

Wesley Nilsen in his winning Superstar performance. (Photo – Terry Turner Photography)

Young Musician Sets The Stage For Further Success  

By Mara Soloway

Musician Wesley Nilsen draws inspiration from an ever-widening variety of genres, including rock, hip-hop, R&B, pop, folk, jazz, and his favorites, Americana and blues-rock.

The 20-year-old from Rosenberg calls the band Kaleo and solo artists Foy Vance and John Mayer his biggest influences at the moment. “It’s always changing, but I think those three artists will always be at the center of where my musical influence comes from,” Nilsen said. Other artists who inspire him include Ray LaMontagne, Jonny Lang and Jon Bellion.

When Nilsen first heard Vance’s song Make it Rain, he found significance in its lyrics. The song was popularized by Vance’s friend, Ed Sheeran.

Nilsen, who is in the band at his church, The Sanctuary Fellowship in Richmond where he also works, has been recording his own material for years. He began playing local gigs early this year. He then decided to enter the Sugar Land Superstar contest and sang Make it Rain at the final round on Aug. 19, backed up by a musical track that he recorded and arranged.

“It’s a dark song with heavy lyrics, and I chose it over some more upbeat songs because of the passion I could put into it — there’s so much space to let the music breathe, and so much room to take the melody wherever I want,” Nilsen said.

The song was obviously a good choice: it resonated with the judges and the public in Sugar Land Town Square who voted Nilsen the contest winner.

“I was absolutely floored by Wesley’s performance. He immersed himself into that song. He became that song. He owned that song!” said Cactus Jack from The New 93Q, one of the judges.

Another judge – Jake McKim of Birch­street Music – knew from the moment Nilsen began singing that his performance would be special. “He produced his own track and brought energy, depth, lyrical connection and strong vocals to the song. He owned the stage and deserved to become the next Sugar Land Superstar,” McKim said.

Three finalists competed that night in the Superstar contest, which features local talent. First runner-up was Kristi Stegall, and second runner-up was Savannah Adkins. Nilsen, whose voice has a range of about four octaves, won a prize package featuring items from Town Square retailers and the opportunity to perform live at future events.

Nilsen started playing various instruments when he was a toddler and began learning guitar at 6. “I don’t think there was ever a time I really realized I had musical talent — I’ve just always been committed to learning and getting better, and it has paid off,” he said. Guitar remains his main instrument, but he also plays bass guitar, piano, ukulele and drums. “I’ll play anything I can get my hands on. I’ll figure out how to make a decent sound with it.”

Nilsen says his strongest artistic influence is his grandfather, painter John Nieto, who was successful in the 1980s; Nilsen even wanted to be a professional painter for a while when he was younger. “He is an incredible painter, and I continue to be inspired by him to take art seriously.”

The young musician hopes to be have a full-time music career one day with all that entails: touring, performing, recording and producing his songs, and possibly producing music for other artists as well. He hopes to build his own recording studio some day. “For now, I record music either in my bedroom or in a church office. I recorded and produced my EP, World of Nothing, entirely from my bedroom, and co-produced my church’s album, Fierce Grace,” he said.

Look for these records, along with Nilsen’s new solo projects that should be out by the end of the year, on iTunes and Spotify. Visit his Facebook page and YouTube channel to learn more about his music and career.

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