Former child country star Billy Gilman staged an emotional return to the spotlight on Tuesday night's (Sept. 20) episode of The Voice. Performing a moving cover of Adele's "When We Were Young," the singer who made history in 2000 when, at 11, he became the youngest artist to score a Top 40 hit with his first single, the gold-certified "One Voice," set off a bidding war between coaches Adam Levine and Miley Cyrus.
And he might have just taken the first step to climb back from a career spiral that he never saw coming.
"Within the quiet moments, I found who I was as a person," Gilman told Voice host Carson Daly backstage during the show about the period when Nashville turned its back on him after a successful early run that included a double-platinum debut and two gold albums that followed. After his voice changed during puberty and he took five years off, Gilman came back in 2014 with the indie single "Say You Will."
A lot had changed in that turbulent period, including Gilman's decision to come out two years ago in an emotional video in which he said that fellow country singer Ty Herndon's decision to come out had inspired him, even as Gilman speculated that years of gossip about his sexuality may have helped derail his career. "Being a gay male country artist is not the best things," he said in the video of the sometimes conservative nature of Nashville that he tied to his inability to land a recording deal with a major after selling 5 million records.
PHOTOS: Billy Gilman as a kid
Billy Gilman through the years
Billy Gilman through the years
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Billy Gilman is on hand at the nominations for the 43rd annual Grammy Awards in Webster Hall. The 12-year-old performer is a nominee for the Best Male Country Vocal award. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Young Country music star Billy Gilman poses with his award for Country Favorite New Artist backstage at the 28th Annual American Music Awards January 8, 2001 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
Country music artist Billy Gilman thanks the audience after performing at the 34th annual Country Music Association Awards at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, October 4, 2000.
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Charlotte Church, Billy Gilman -- Air Date 12/30/2000 -- Episode 1931 -- Pictured: (l-r) Musical guests Charlotte Church, Billy Gilman perform on October 30, 2000 (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1868 -- Pictured: Musical guest Billy Gilman performs on July, 11 2000 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Billy Gilman during The 2000 Teen Choice Awards at Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1868 -- Pictured: Musical guest Billy Gilman performs on July 11, 2000 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Billy Gilman during Michael Jackson's 30th Anniversary Celebration - Arrivals at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
Billy Gilman during The 28th Annual American Music Awards at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Billy Gilman during Michael Jackson's 30th Anniversary Celebration - Show at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Billy Gilman at the Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years at Madison Square Garden in New York City. 9/7/2001. Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images
Jessica Simpson, Billy Gilman, Sarah Michelle Gellar and girls from Corrs backstage (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Billy Gilman (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Billy Gilman and Reba McEntire (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)
Billy Gilman at the Fox Billboard Bash, the pre event party for the Billboard Awards at the MGM Grand in LAs Vegas, NV, 12/3/01. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect)
Billy Gilman during KTU's Miracle on 34th St. show at Madison Square Garden in New York City at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)
396190 09: Singer Billy Gilman attends the 'United We Stand' benefit concert October 21, 2001 in Washington, D. C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Billy Gilman during Teen People Takes A Look At What's Next In New Talent By Celebrating Its Third Annual What's Next Issue - Arrivals at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
Justin Timberlake, Billy Gilman, and Chris Kirkpatrick (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Aaron Carter and Billy Gilman introduce an act at the 2001 Billboard Awards at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage)
Billy Gilman and Macaulay Culkin (Photo by Kevin Kane/WireImage)
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18: Singer Billy Gilman arrives at the 'Miracle On 34th Street' Concert at Madison Square Garden December 18, 2002 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Matthew Peyton/Getty Images)
But, he told Daly, the struggle made him stronger. "I had to come to grips with being gay...; I took a long time to rebuild vocally, but it was coming back, and then coming to grips with who I was personally, I also came to grips with who I was as a singer," Gilman said. "You know, I love my country music roots, but deep down, I really always wanted to be a pop singer."
Realizing that he needed to do it on his won, Gilman said The Voice was his "one shot" to reinvent himself.
Levine was the first to turn around, with Cyrus immediately punching in as Gilman hit his first towering falsetto note and Alicia Keys and Blake Shelton finally turning around as Gilman brought things to a dramatic close. "What's your name, man?" Shelton asked. "I know Billy," the country star responded when Gilman introduced himself and described how exciting it was to finally stand on a stage and sing the way he's always wanted to. Shelton said he'd always wondered what happened to Gilman -- whose "One Voice" was a hit when Blake was making his first album -- praising the singer for finally finding his true sound.
Cyrus also had a moment of clarity, recalling Gilman's music video and how Billy opened for her dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, back in the day. "I know who the hell you are! Let me take care of you," Cyrus said, adding later, "I'd love to help you now become The New Billy, 'cause I had to make that decision [to change genres], and I know how I want people to see me, and I'm very clear about that. So I would love to help you be clear to people about who you are."
In the end, though, Billy went with the coach who stood up first, and remained standing, Levine. "That intangible quality that you possess is exactly what embodies the person that wins this show," said the Maroon 5 singer. "You really could be the guy. I am blown away!"
PHOTOS: Billy Gilman as an adult
Billy Gilman on 'The Voice'
Billy Gilman on 'The Voice'
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 11: Actor Billy Gilman attends the 2016 Point Honors Gala at New York Public Library on April 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 11: Billy Gilman performs onstage at Point Honors Gala honors Greg Louganis and Pete Nowalk on April 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Point Foundation)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13: Billy Gilman performs at the 2015 Boston 45th Annual Pride Festival at Boston City Hall Plaza on June 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 11: Billy Gilman performs onstage at Point Honors Gala honors Greg Louganis and Pete Nowalk on April 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Point Foundation)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 02: Singer Billy Gilman and Chris Meyer attend the 'Stop Ebola And Build For The Future' concert at United Nations Headquarters on March 2, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 28: Billy Gilman attends the Flaming Saddles Saloon grand opening on January 28, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Unique Nicole/WireImage)