Twelve-Member Family Band the Willis Clan Launching New Show on TLC
Being in a 12-person band is an undertaking for anyone, but when they're all siblings ranging from age 4 to 23? It’s a whole new level of chaos. The Willis Clan don't mind, though. The endearing 14-member family — known for their bluegrass twists on popular songs during their run on America’s Got Talent — can soon be seen on their very own show on TLC.
The show, aptly named The Willis Family, will follow the Nashville-based group in their chaotic and creative lives as they play music, dance, sing, write, or even wrestle, allowing America to see a small part of what it’s like to be a Willis.
The family began performing together professionally in 2004, when an entrepreneur opening an Irish pub on Nashville’s famous Music Row approached them.
“My children were dancing on the bar because there was no dance floor,” Brenda Willis tells Taste of Country. “He loved what they did and asked if they would like to perform at the opening. Dan McGuinness was the first stage we ever played on, so our first gig is tied heavily to Nashville."
Those Nashville ties are strongly present in their most recent album, which is made up of primarily bluegrass and country tunes, but their roots grow in Ireland. “My mom’s grandfather is 100 percent Irish,” says Brenda. “It’s a really cool part of our heritage that we’ve reconnected with."
Somewhere in between Ireland and Music City, you find the Willis Clan.
“We have a special affection for country and bluegrass music because the first type of music we started doing was Irish music, and country music is sort of the American cousin of Irish music, and you hear so many of those roots coming through,” says Jessica Willis, 23 — the eldest sibling in the clan.
Jessica says influences like Alison Krauss and Union Station as well as Nickel Creek have had a significant impact on the band’s style and love for the genre, but their recent involvement with the Grand Ole Opry has given them the opportunity to meet several other country artists like Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and the Band Perry.
“They inspire us a lot,” she says.
The band gained a strong following after their unique performance of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. It has now been viewed on YouTube more than 6.4 million times (watch here).
“The social media reaction was so ridiculous,” Jessica explains. “It was hard to grasp for a while. All summer long, people would come up to us at our concerts and say, ‘we saw you on America’s Got Talent and that's why we’re here!’ That’s when we thought, ‘wow, this really did a lot of cool things for us.’”
As a result, the family is busy touring around the country together, with dad Toby running production and Brenda heading up the business side of things, but fans can find them on TLC starting Tuesday, May 5 at 10PM ET. The show will be an honest glimpse into what life is like in the Willis family and a true sampling of just how talented the group is.
"What’s great is the TLC show is saying, ‘Hey, we want to see what you do.’ We get to be our real selves, do the real deal, be who we are,” says Toby Willis, the patriarch of the group. “We’ve got somebody of every age, so there's something for everybody."
Though many may feel unnerved at the idea of having cameras follow them around 24/7, the Willises aren’t worried. “It’s not nearly as scary as deciding to have 12 kids,” Toby jokes.
“We’ve had a lot of opportunities grow with this, and I feel like we’ve grown with it,” Brenda adds. “We’d be doing this, what we’re doing right now, whether there were cameras or not.”
To learn more about the Willis Clan, view behind-the-scenes videos or follow them on social media, visit their website. And catch them on TLC each week!