Todd Tilghman Reflects on Life Following His Big Win on The Voice : 'I Was a Nobody from Nowhere'

Todd Tilghman Grand Ole Opry
Todd Tilghman Grand Ole Opry

Grand Ole Opry, Photo by Chris Hollo Todd Tilghma

Todd Tilghman still can't believe he has Blake Shelton's phone number. So, when the season 18 winner of The Voice received a text from his former coach, it took him by surprise. But he knew it had to be good — and it certainly was.

"First, Blake invited me to perform for the first time at the Grand Ole Opry, and then I found out he wanted to introduce me," Tilghman, 44, tells PEOPLE. "I found both of those [things] out on the same day. It was crazy."

It was indeed a blockbuster of a message — one that the Mississippi native says he couldn't wait to tell everyone.

"My wife [Brooke] was already with me when Blake invited me to come to the [Grand Ole] Opry, so I told her first," remembers Tilghman, who at age 42 became the oldest winner in the history of The Voice. "It was about a half-hour later and we had left home when Blake sent another text saying he wanted to introduce me, so I told [Brooke] and the kids, and then I sent a message to our family group chat."

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On Sept. 10, Tilghman made his Grand Ole Opry debut. "It's sort of like stepping into history and becoming just the tiniest part of it," says Tilghman.

Mere days after his Opry debut, Tilghman reflected on the night, which he knew would be special from the moment he parked his car outside the iconic venue.

"Because it was my debut, they had a parking sign with my name on it," says the father of eight children with wife Brooke. "Then, at the end of the night, they gave [the sign] to me. I couldn't believe it was a legitimate metal sign." He laughs. "I thought it was just cardboard or something!"

Once inside, Tilghman found himself surrounded by family, friends, and The Voice alums such as season 17 winner Jake Hoot and season 21 runner-up Wendy Moten. Making the night even more special was the fact that Tilghman was not only greeted once inside by Shelton, but also his wife and pop powerhouse, Gwen Stefani.

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"Everyone was just super gracious to us," Tilghman remarks. "Blake came up and gave me a huge bear hug and said congratulations to me... He was just asking me how it felt, and I was thinking, 'It's hard to know what you're feeling.' It's indescribable."

One thing he knew very well? It was a night he'd never forget.

"Every time I do anything like this, people say I'm not going to remember anything because it's going to be a blur," says Tilghman. "But really, that doesn't happen. I remember my blind audition, and I will always remember singing on the Opry stage."

Tilghman celebrated his Grand Ole Opry debut with a two-song set that concluded with his current single "Home Wasn't Built in a Day," which essentially tells his incredible story in a nutshell.

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"I don't think we intended for it to be my story, but it turned out to be just that at the end of the day," remarks Tilghman with a laugh. "Every word of that song is true! We really did live in a one-bedroom apartment over [Brooke's] grandma's garage."

While experiencing high moments like winning The Voice and performing at the Grand Ole Opry, Tilghman also doesn't shy from the truth — success still doesn't come easy. "We're out here, and I'm not complaining," he says quietly. "I'm excited, but we're just sort of out here on our own. It's just me and the team. We don't have a label or anything. We're just here fighting it out."

Still, Tilghman wants to inspire others by sharing his story.

"I hope that if my life and our family can do anything for other people, it can help them believe in miracles," he says. "I was a nobody from nowhere. And now I get to stand at the artist entrance of the Grand Ole Opry. It's just wild."