Whether it’s performing for the nation on "America’s Got Talent," sharing the stories of their day-to-day life on their own TLC reality show, or treating Dollywood guests to a toe-tapping concert, the Willis family shows no signs of slowing down.
Among the many talented performers during Dollywood’s Barbeque & Bluegrass (May 13-22), The Willis Clan is slated to take the stage on May 15 for what promises to be a fun show for guests. The extremely talented family band is comprised of Toby and Brenda Willis’ 12 children. While the band has performed at Dollywood in the past, it was a recent appearance on NBC’s "America’s Got Talent" which saw their fortunes rise.
As one may expect, playing on national television was a game-changer for the family. The family’s third-oldest child, Jennifer, serves as the road manager for the band. She is also a multi-talented musician, counting the accordion, fiddle, piano, mandolin, electric and acoustic guitar, banjo and ukulele among her instruments of choice. Jennifer said,
"'America’s Got Talent' changed our normal life. Our fan base really grew because of it. We didn’t get as far as we would have liked, but it was enjoyable and everything happens for a reason. TLC saw us on the show and that is how the ball started rolling."
While their time on season nine of "America’s Got Talent" ended in the quarterfinals, TLC saw great potential in the family, creating a show named "The Willis Family" to document their daily experiences. The Willis Clan sees the show as an opportunity to inspire their viewers through both good and bad times they may be facing. Jennifer commented,
"There are pros and cons to a reality show. The pros are that it is great exposure for the band, and we love sharing our talents, our music and our core family values. The downsides are that people see when you struggle through things. They see when you have bad days, but we think it is important for people to see what is authentic. If everything was always good, people couldn’t relate. We all struggle; we want to be good role models by the ways in which we handle our issues."
Watching the show, viewers quickly understand two things; The Willis Clan likes to have fun, and they enjoy doing what they love as a family. Jennifer said,
"We feel so blessed and fortunate to do what we love as our business, and on top of that, we feel honored to do it with our family. So many people have to leave their family to do their job, we feel blessed to have the opportunity to do what we do with family."
When it comes to having fun, there is no better place for The Willis Clan to perform than Dollywood. Having visited the park as both guests and performers, Willis says her family knows they are in for a treat every time they visit the award-winning park. She said,
"We absolutely love it. I was born in Chicago, so I was a city kid. When I was young, coming to Dollywood was a blast. It was a highlight of the year to go to Dollywood. The rides and the theme park are great, but being from a musical family, and an artistic family in general, we loved the music, the crafts and the shops, too.
"Dollywood was the whole package for us. Mom and Dad, all the way down to the younger kids, could enjoy it. Coming to play now is such an honor for us because it was such a magical place to us growing up, and we love being integrated in to it now."
For guests ready to see the family in action, Willis said there may be a few surprises in store during the Dollywood appearance. Jennifer explained,
"The band is going through some good changes. People are growing up and starting to take on new roles. The show will have a great variety, lots of music, definitely some dancing, but you may see new members of the band getting up and performing. You also may see other members doing things they wouldn’t normally do. People are starting to branch out, and we are really excited about it."
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