Long before shows the like The Voice, one Music City native was a runner-up on Star Search, a program that inspired all other competition singing shows.
Nathan Lee might be one of the most unusual singers in town. Instead of bright lights and big stages, Lee prefers tough, small crowds in some of the worst settings in the country.
On a recent Friday night at a Nashville homeless shelter, Lee sat down at a piano at dinner time. It was not exactly a great setting for a typical performance or a typical performer.
But that is the Lee's incredible gift. His music plays best for the broken.
"I play ballads for guys who cry," Lee said. "The music I write makes sense there. Better than in other places."
The singer-songwriter has followed a crooked path to which many in the shelter can relate. A singing phenom at 17 years old and a runner-up on Star Search, his dreams seemed to be within reach. But then came addiction and rehab and a struggle to keep his music - his precious art - alive.
"On three separate occasions, I downsized to the point of a car. Some people call that homeless, but I just call it a choice. I couldn't find anything I love to do more," he said.
Things did get better. His style a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, Lee turned heads and attracted five separate recording contracts.
A studio record followed, but the label went bankrupt right after its release.
"Some people, that sends them home. And that's OK. Some people should go home," Lee said.
The disappointment didn't send Lee home. Instead, it sent him into prisons, homeless shelters and halfway houses.
Lee is a huge hit in prisons. One warden told Channel 4 News he has never seen anything like it - never seen prisoners relate to any program the way they relate to Lee's music and message.
And leaders at the Nashville Rescue Mission said that in 23 years, of all the entertainers and all the programs at the facility, Lee has received the only standing ovation they have seen.
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