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Life & Work with Tyler Kohrs

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tyler Kohrs.

Hi Tyler, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My name is Tyler Kohrs, and I am 28 years old, living in Nashville, Tennessee. I was born in South Korea and was adopted as a baby. I lived in the small town of Trenton, Illinois, for the majority of my life.

My earliest memories of falling in love with music were going on car rides with my mom on the weekends, and we would listen to cassette tapes of Shania Twain and Hillsong, and we would drive for hours listening to these artists and singing along to their lyrics. I remember my grandma and my grandpa listening to traditional country music every time we would be in the car with them. I guess you could say a lot of my earliest memories of music started in the car.

But the memory that stands out even more, sparked the dream of pursuing music as an artist was back in 2005 when Carrie Underwood won American Idol. That was a pivotal moment for me because she came from a small town and made a name for herself in music. Being someone who was from a small town where there were slim opportunities for music inspired me to the point where any time I had to write a paper about what I wanted to be when I got older, I would write, “I want to be an American Idol.” and that is where I just let that spark take over into this forest fire that would not stop.

I would rewatch episodes of American Idol that I had recorded on VHS tapes and study them until I could do what they were doing vocally. Then thankfully, years later came the amazing gift that was YouTube, and I did not have to record them on VHS anymore (ha-ha). I would sing all the time, a lot of the time it was at home, by myself, so that no one could hear me. Until one day in the 5th grade, my music teacher said I needed to be in the chorus. At the time, I did not want to because I was the shy, timid kid who did not want the attention, did not want to stand out, and did not want to be the only boy in this extracurricular. But after much persuasion, I took that leap of faith and joined, and from there, I just started understanding my voice and what it could do.

My voice at the time (and let’s face it still to this day, I get confused for a woman in the drive-thru because my voice is higher than the “typical” male voice) was high, so I was an alto and still developing because again I was only in the 5th grade. I would get “dinged” a lot for scooping, or also known as runs because my only training before joining the chorus was watching American Idol. So, I got to learn the technical side of the instrument that taught me a lot even to this day. I owe those lessons that I learned in chorus from 5th grade till my senior year in high school that I am able to harmonize and sing background for people now.

I enjoyed when I got to go to chorus, and then eventually show choir, and then our musical theatre department because it was a way I could explore more to my voice and just a world of different music styles. High school is also when I started singing in the worship band at church, where I gained a lot of stage presence and practice singing harmonies and just being on a stage. When I turned 16, that was the GOLDEN YEAR for me because that meant I could finally start to audition for American Idol, and it was around that time as well that I started singing for YouTube videos. Which back then meant I was sitting on my bathroom floor, singing acapella, and let me tell you, watching those videos back makes me very humbled and grateful for how far I’ve come.

With all that came to a multitude of rejection and hateful comments that I was never used to. Being from a small town and one of the few boys that sang, I was surrounded by only positive comments, but when you open your talent to the world on the internet and reality television, you are faced with rejection and negative comments that caused me to become guarded and almost stop singing. I was a teenager, and as a teenager who was already super self-conscious and anxious, it was a lot. But I’m grateful that I had people who invested their time in me and forced me to not give up.
Once I graduated from high school, I went to a college that was known for its music program, Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois, and I ended up listening to my parents by not majoring in music but still pursuing it as a “hobby.”

So, I ended up majoring and earning my B.S. Degree in Social Work with an emphasis in counseling. But where I found myself even more grateful was, I was at a college that allowed you to take courses outside of your major if you had the time and I did, so I joined right away my freshmen year a class called “Rock Ensemble” that was taught and mentored by Jorge Casas (who was Gloria Estefan’s bandleader and bass player for years). I will never forget my first day in that class. He pulled me aside before I even started singing and told me, “You know, you are the only person in my class who is not a music major. This will not be easy, and I suggest you drop this class before the dropout period ends.”

I looked at him and told him, “I appreciate it, sir, but I love to sing, and I am going to take this class.” and let me give some background to this class, basically, you are put into a band for a semester and you perform every week with a different theme (so basically it was American Idol, so hence why I fell in love with the idea of this class). The first week we get up on stage and perform, “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon (that video is on my YouTube Channel) and Jorge Casas pulls me aside after class and says, “I am glad you did not listen to me, you have something special and by the end of this semester I will get you to change majors.” unfortunately, I did not change my major, but I did continue to surprise him and people in the department of music. At this time, I was still auditioning for shows like, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, The X Factor, and The Voice (which was a season or two in by the time I was in college).

At this time I was really pushing myself as this pop/R&B artist, even with the country music and gospel upbringing I was just connected with the power that pop music was, I was a HUGE ballads guy so you had your Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey, those big ballad voices that just inspired me (and of course Carrie Underwood). Jump forward to my junior year of college (2014) and I decided to take Rock Ensemble one last time before my senior year and members of my band I was placed in were country musicians and I got to dive into the old roots that I grew up in and while we did some pop songs that semester, we did a lot of country music.

That was true when I felt the spark ignite in me to start pursuing country music as my genre of choice. After that semester ended I got an email from Jorge Casas who was still a huge influence in my life (even when I didn’t take his class) and said, “In my years of teaching at this school you are in the top 5 students I have had, and you have such a passion for this that I can’t see you doing anything else.” and that inspired me, still does to this day. In 2015 I posted a cover of, “Little Toy Guns” by Carrie Underwood and that was the summer before my senior year of college and I remember after posting it that evening my iPod Touch BLEW UP and when I went to see why I saw that Carrie Underwood herself shared the video on her Twitter and her Facebook page (Instagram wasn’t super big then and I think that was back when you couldn’t even put full videos on there, but 15-second clips).

That just instilled in me that this is what I need to be doing and I am so grateful still to this day because that truly opened doors for me and made people take notice of me. Senior year of college was a special year for me because I got to play shows like my own artist and got to be one of the few country artists on campus and that was really special. I started recording singles as well, “Rich” and “Slow Dance” which were songs written by Sami Pearson who I met during my junior year in Rock Ensemble. Those songs landed me a Greenville Music Award nomination for Best Male Artist of the Year, which was a first for a non-music major.

I just really started to find my footing as a country artist and that is also when I started auditioning for those shows as a country artist. It was not always easy though, I ran into a lot of, “There is no lane for someone like you in this genre.” or “There is NO LANE for Asians in country music.” or my personal favorite from 2019, “If you would stick to music like BTS then you would have a direction that is already laid out for you.” A lot of knocks for my race in a genre that I grew up listening to and that I was so passionate about. It was hard and it was in those moments of hearing that, that I almost gave up.

It was in 2016 when I started making trips to Nashville and check out the scene and I was inspired every time I would come to town. I always stopped at the Grand Ole Opry first, every time as inspiration for my trips and I would sit outside the building and pray. It was in those moments, in those trips where I just found my drive for staying in this genre of music. And people were starting to take notice because I was posting videos (no longer on my bathroom floor) of me singing and playing the piano (I taught myself back in 2014) and songwriters and artists started to share them and help me gain a platform on social media.

Artists from; Randy Travis, Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne, Adam Hambrick, Kelsea Ballerini, Dan+Shay, Brett Young, Ronnie Dunn, Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town, Lauren Alaina, Lindsay Ell, Tenille Arts, Tenille Townes, Kellie Pickler, Abby Anderson, Parmalee, Matt Stell, Hunter Hayes, Carly Pearce, Lori McKenna, Brooke Eden, Morgan Evans, Mickey Guyton, Carlton Anderson, Rachel Wammack, and many others who I looked up to in this industry were seeing my videos and commenting and sharing and that was a HUGE boost that I needed, especially during a time where I was getting turned down for being an “Asian in Country Music”.

Come 2019, I get an offer from Black River Entertainment (Kelsea Ballerini’s label) to play on their Artist Spotlight Stage at CMA Fest and I sang, “Tequila” by Dan+Shay and it was such a rewarding moment for me and that is when I knew I needed to be in Nashville permanently. So, in October 2019 I moved from Illinois, left my job as a Director of Christian Education, and moved to pursue music. The incredibly talented, Ryan Larkins and Justin Young (of Gone West) who has been like a mentor to me opened up the door for me as he invited me to play a writer’s round with him at the Commodore in town and since that moment, I had no doubt I was where I belonged.

I had regular gigs playing original music and it was while I was working at a local BBQ place that really inspired me to write music that connected. I was working a shift and this couple walked in and was like, “Didn’t you play CMA Fest this past year?” and I responded with, “Yes I did” and they showed me the picture we took together and asked what I was doing working here? It was at that moment when I saw their faces kind of turn disappointed that I wasn’t writing music that was personal. I was stuck and that day I wrote a song called, “Different to Me” that I still play to this day in all my writer’s round showcases and it is the most personal song to me that I have and it expresses the frustrations and the unfiltered, “unInstagramable” parts of this life and people to this day come up to me and talk about that song and how it resonates with them.

To me, that is when I knew I was doing my job as not only an artist but a songwriter. During this year I was in the running of doing one of the popular reality singing competition shows and was cut last minute and they told me, “There is no lane for Asians in country music and so we will no longer be advancing you in the competition.” and that really made me feel like this is it for me, like every ounce of confidence that I may have had just diminished and I was broken for a long time.

Jump forward to 2020, and my grandma passed away, February of 2020 and I bring this up because she was my biggest supporter, she is a huge reason why I still pursue this and why I haven’t given up, and whether she would have admitted it or not, a huge reason why I moved to Nashville.

She hated I moved so far away (only 4.5 hours away, but our family was super close in terms of distance so I was the first to really move far), but I knew though she was proud of me for doing it and I do what I do for her. But come after that I meet Carrie Underwood and that to me came at a point when I was so lost and didn’t know what I was doing here because while I was playing shows and writing music, I just felt like I wasn’t going anywhere and she just was a light in a very dark time of my life. Well at this point and time I decided 2020 was the year I wasn’t going to audition for any reality singing shows. I had auditioned so much through the years, I started auditioning when I turned 16 and I was 26 at the time 2020 started.

I had auditioned a total of 82 times for shows, yes you read correctly 82 times. And then what would you know, the pandemic hits and we are trapped in our homes. So, what do I do? I write, I sing, I make cover videos and from there I got an email that I never expected to get. It was from NBC’s The Voice, the casting team I should say and they saw the most recent cover I had posted of, “The Strangers” by Ingrid Andress and they wanted me to send them some other videos to be considered for the “Covid season of the show”.

So I sent them “The Other Side” by Lauren Alaina (that was for my grandma) and “Prayed for You” by Matt Stell (because he told me at one of his shows that I had the best version of that song and if I had released it before him he never would have had a chance) and from there that turned into Zoom meetings with producers and this all happened in April 2020 so at the height of the pandemic and it was not till August 14, 2020 (my 27th birthday of all days) I get the phone call that I was going to be flown out to LA to film a Blind Audition for Season 20. So, the year, the first year I decided not to audition for any of these shows is the year the ball hits the bat and it’s a homerun and I 100% believe it was my grandma who was the driver of this whole thing.

So, at the end of September, I flew out to film Season 20 and was given a song that was super personal to me and that was, “More Hearts Than Mine” by Ingrid Andress and for those who watched me on television when it aired in April 2021 I did not turn a chair, but still, a dream of mine had come true. I made it on the show, 83 auditions later and I made it and it was because of that experience I got a platform I never had before.

More opportunities to play around town opened up, I gained a family from doing the show with people who have impacted my life for the better and who I am so grateful for, I recorded my version of “More Hearts Than Mine” which is out everywhere, and just gained a real sense that this is what I want to do and nothing is going to stop me.

So here we are now in October 2021 and I am still writing music, I am still playing shows with incredible songwriters and artists, many of whom are a part of The Voice family, and I am just working hard every day to continue to find my sound and get my message out there. Music has and always will be my passion and I don’t see myself doing anything else.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
As Lauren Alaina sings, “Take the road less traveled.” and I live by that every day. Being an Asian in country music has not been the easiest road to travel down, but I also don’t see myself doing any other genre of music. I never saw myself as different growing up and remind you I was adopted and raised by white parents and grew up in a town that was predominantly white.

But still never saw myself as different or “not normal” I was accepted. Funny enough I experienced, and still to this day more racism here in Nashville, a big city compared to my small town of Trenton, Illinois. It just blows my mind what people are willing to say and not just online, but to my face, in public. But when it comes to the music, I want it to be about that, the music. Shouldn’t matter what we look like, or what our skin color or race is. Race doesn’t define the genre and should not, in that case, what should matter is the talent and the work that a person is willing to put in.

The reason I fell in love with country music, to begin with, was the songwriting, it was always about telling a story, something that not all genres of music did, or currently do. So, for me being Asian in country music has been the “story” when it is not what defines me, I don’t want to be a character in the genre, I want to be an artist and thankfully there are people here who see me for me and accept it and I am grateful for that.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
While I moved to Nashville to pursue music, I do have to pay my bills and so I currently teach preschool in Franklin, Tennessee, and have 22 little 4-5-year-olds that are a bunch of crazy, loveable Rugrats that make my job rewarding at the end of the day. Funny enough, I started this job not too long after I got back from filming Season 20 of The Voice, I have been there since January 2021.

What I believe sets me apart aside from being Asian in Country Music (because I want to be known for more than just that) is my love for ballads. I think a lot of men in the country music genre are viewed as “Bro Country” and I am far from that and I have come to terms I will never be a “bro” in Bro Country, haha. I tend to sing a lot more ballads, that is just the style I lean more towards. I believe that if I am not able to connect to a song I should not be singing it. I want the listener to connect and to feel what I am singing, I remember how music hit me at a young age and I just want to do that for someone else and be that role model and inspire others. Growing up there were no Asians in country music, at least none that had a platform and it made me believe I could not be in the genre and now in 2021 the conversation is open and more artists of different races and ethnicities are stepping forward and being highlighted. As Brad Paisley said to Kelsea Ballerini, “You’re going to see people go into drought and you’re gonna see people firehose. Kelsea just water the plants.” and I love that so much because it is so beautifully said. Country music really is for everyone and I am grateful to be even a small part of it.

What’s next?
“What I’ve learned and what I’m learning is to loosen up my grip on what I think I want and just be here.”

My future plans are to continue booking shows in town and even out of town (you can always reach out and book me for any event you may have). I want to write more songs that allow me more variety (uptempo, ballads, midtempo, etc.) I want to be able to show more sides to me and my story. I want to continue to collaborate with more artists and songwriters in town who push me to be better and allow me to showcase what I am able to do while working together to create a cohesive project.

I want to start recording again, whether that be a project of singles or an EP but I have music ready and just need the financial support and the right team to make it happen. I have people who come up to me at my shows and ask where can they listen to these songs (because they are all originals) and I sadly have to tell them it’s only on Youtube, so to have something that is mine again and out there would just be everything to me. I want to work my way to doing music full-time, that is the goal and the dream and I am grateful every time I am able to step onto a stage, or in a studio recording a demo or something for someone because it proves to me that people like what I am doing and most importantly I am finally proud of the music I am putting out there into the world.

The ultimate goal is to make my Grand Ole Opry debut and one day become a member and I am ready to put in the work to make that happen.

This road has not been easy for me. It’s definitely been very difficult. I’ve gotten a lot of doors that have just been closed but by the grace of God, my family and a wonderful supportive system and team. They push me to never give up and not listen to the doubters as you guys know there’s a lot along the way.

Contact Info:

Image Credits

Jesse Cofty, Taylar Stauss, and Marcella Fiorenzi

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  1. Jamie Kingston

    October 25, 2021 at 7:24 pm

    Wow, this is truly inspiring. My son is Asian, we adopted him from Japan and he needs some good, wholesome, Asian role models in his life and I will definitely be showing him this man right here. Wow, I am just in tears right now over this. Thank you Tyler for sharing your story, and your truth. I wish you all the best and hope to bring my son to one of your shows in Nashville.

  2. Kenneth Bridges

    October 25, 2021 at 8:12 pm

    Representation matters! About time we see an Asian in country music, honestly it should not have taken this long for someone to come on the scene and represent a genre of music that is very “one sided”. Proud of you man, I remember seeing you on The Voice and just being inspired by you and your story there and to see a more indepth look into your life and your story it just inspires me so much and I know will inspire so many others.

    • Tyler Kohrs

      November 3, 2021 at 1:30 pm

      Thank you so much for the kind words, but I am very confused why my picture is your avatar lol. But thank you for your kindness and support.

  3. Lisa Turner

    October 25, 2021 at 8:32 pm

    This is so beautifully said.
    Sending this to a friend of mine who’s son is Asian and love country music. Why are there not more ethnic groups and races in this genre of music, or at least shown? Like you look at pop music and everything else and it is a lot of different races and skin colors shown. But with country music we do not see a whole lot of that and I am shocked it is 2021 and we don’t have any Asians or other culture groups being highlighted in that genre of music. Tyler, keep paving the way you are so young and have so much to offer.

  4. Greg

    October 25, 2021 at 8:42 pm

    Hey! I remember this guy, he used to take my order. Great seeing good things happen to this kid!

  5. Natalie

    October 25, 2021 at 8:45 pm

    Awwww sweet boy…. This brought a tear to my eye. Tyler way to go and stand out in a world that is telling you to be in a box that is too damn small. Continue to trailblaze buddy and you will make it, there is room for you and we welcome you buddy.

  6. Ashley

    October 25, 2021 at 8:48 pm

    Tyler, way to be brother. Remember you when you rolled into town and you have kept that bright spirit you came to town with and still manage to hold yourself with grace and excitement for a business that can suck your soul right out. Beautiful article and you best believe Nashville is ready for someone like you. Keep doing what you are doing brother! Cheers!

  7. Chris H.

    November 3, 2021 at 8:39 pm

    Bro! This is amazing, wayy to be named one of Nashville’s Most Inspiring Stories, most deserving guy! I am so prooud of you brother and this is seriously BIG NEWS. I have always seen something in you man and glad the Nashville community is taking notice finally of the gift you have man. Dont stop grinding and pursuing this, you have it man just got to find those who believe in it too.

  8. Michael S

    November 3, 2021 at 9:58 pm

    New stories like this are things I wish would be highlighted in the media rather than the depressing stories and conflicting sides that is always being showcased. I wish positive stories like this would be featured so thank you Nashville Voyager for sharing this story right here. I don’t know this guy but I feel like I know him based off this article. Just keep on man, don’t let the doubters keep you from doing this. Clearly you have something cause you were on tv for Pete Sake, but like even if you weren’t you are playing and putting music out there that is connecting and that is sick! I hope you get everything you are working towards and more brother.

  9. Karen F.

    November 3, 2021 at 9:59 pm

    What a beautiful story.
    So much heart and drive from this young man.

  10. Claire D.

    November 4, 2021 at 8:37 pm

    Beautiful soul. Went to go check this guy out and he seems as authentic as the day is long. Wishing him the best and that other people start to take notice. There are not enough ethnicities being represented in that genre and that needs to change because clearly it is not that there is a lack of interests on their end, but from the radio stations and the labels and everywhere else. Give people like this is chance because this was a breath of fresh air to read and even listen too.

  11. Justin D

    November 4, 2021 at 8:43 pm

    DUDE! I totally remember you at CMA Fest all those years ago you sang one of the best versions of Tequila by Dan and Shay that I’ve ever heard. And then ran into you randomly at the Matt Stell show in Nashville a year later where I wish you would have sang with him because I know he loved your cover of Prayed for you. Dude this is really awesome and I have been a fan of yours since I heard you play at CMA Fest keep playing and defying the odds in this town because you are a sick singer bro.

  12. Stacey S

    November 4, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    I hope you release more music soon man, I ended up going to listen to you on Spotify and thought I need more! I am going to come to your show on Friday this week to come see you live and my friends and I are so excited. Just a stunning vocalist and after this article I really feel like I know you and what you are all about. Keep it up!

  13. Kristin M

    November 5, 2021 at 8:51 pm

    What a kind soul, I don’t even know this guy but after reading this I feel like I do and we could be best friends based on feeling like I know his life. I love how authentic and open he is and how vulnerable he was willing to go during this interview. You just feel his heart and his passion for this and I wish him the best.

  14. Olivia C

    November 16, 2021 at 9:43 pm

    Beautiful testimony kid. This was just very emotional and well said.

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