The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Former child prodigy Billy Gilman leads effort for charity single feat. 18 top country stars

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In 2000, no one had a voice like 12-year-old Billy Gilman. But when puberty temporarily took that away, he had to find another passion.

The former child-prodigy, who sold over 2 million copies of his debut album, "One Voice,' returned to a normal life and started volunteering.

Now that he can sing again, Gilman, 23, is using his talent to give back. He co-wrote a song called "The Choice," and all the proceeds are going to the organization Soles4Souls, which provides shoes for children and adults in need around the world. The track features Gilman and 18 of country music's top artists each singing a line or two, including Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban and LeAnn Rimes. Fans can pre-order the song starting Thursday, and it will be available to download April 16.

"I couldn't imagine not having a pair of shoes, not just for the sake of being comfortable and looking cool, but I never thought until I got really involved that shoes enable you to get a job," said Gilman in a recent interview.

He points out that you can't walk into a building, a school or a restaurant without shoes, and says, "It really is more than giving a pair of shoes so the kid can look hip and cool. It's a way of life."

Songwriters Dan Murph and Philip Douglas brought up "The Choice" idea to Gilman in a songwriting session as they worked on material for his new album. The three of them finished the song, and in two weeks they had approached Soles4Souls and recorded a demo. Then Gilman started contacting friends in the music business.

He reached out to Rimes on Twitter, and she responded right back. Both Urban and Reba instantly said, "Tell me when."

"It's amazing to see the camaraderie," said Gilman.

A handful of artists recorded on their bus while on tour, including Kenny Rogers. Gilman was especially thrilled to get him for the record, because Rogers was part of the original "We Are The World" recording and understood the effect artists can have when they come together for a cause.

The goal is to place 500,000 pairs of shoes on people worldwide through sales of the song and donations. One dollar will buy a pair of new or gently used shoes. A 30 second sneak peek of the music video featuring Gilman and footage from Haiti will begin airing in Regal Cinemas for two weeks starting April 13. The full video premieres on CMT April 16.

Other artists participating on "The Choice" include Rodney Atkins, Montgomery Gentry, Amy Grant, Steve Holy, Wynonna Judd, Richie McDonald, Vince Gill, Ronnie Milsap, Craig Morgan, Kellie Pickler, Diamond Rio, Randy Travis, and Josh Turner.

After his voice-changing struggle, Gilman says he has even more appreciation for his music career.

"Singing is what I am, so when it was gone, it was very hard. But it was a good time to go back home and rekindle friendships, be with my family and get my head straight, and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," said Gilman. "As my voice started to come back, I said, 'This is all I am.' Coming back to Nashville and writing, doing projects like this, it's what I am."

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Online: http://www.soles4souls.org

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For the latest country music news from The Associated Press, follow: http://www.twitter.com/AP_Country

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