Vicksburg native Zak Tillotson won first prize in the 2022 Mississippi Songwriter of the Year contest on Saturday, June 25.
His acoustic rendition of his song “Down to the River” earned him the top spot.
Tillotson, who goes by the stage name Zechariah Lloyd, said the results caught him off guard.
“I was really speechless. I didn’t know what to say,” he said. “It was kind of an ‘I can’t believe I’m going to win’ type feeling, you know. But (it was) really good.
The contest was held at the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center (The MAX) in Meridian, Mississippi. The show started at 7:30 p.m. when 15 finalists performed their songs in front of a panel of judges. At the end of the performances, the judges’ points were tallied and the winners were announced.
“There were a lot of great artists there. I was really blown away to come out on top,” Tillotson said. “Naomi Taylor, she’s from Jackson, I think she’s a great artist. She was one of the participants. And there were only a handful more that I thought could have really taken the cake.
Second place went to Cole Hill, third to CandyLee and the People’s Choice Award to Danny Irvin.
First prize includes the opportunity to record a song with producer and songwriter Billy Lawson, owner of Wishbone Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Lawson has written songs that have been recorded by George Strait, Kenny Rogers and Blake Shelton, to name a few. .
Tillotson said he wanted to thank his friends and family for helping him get to this point.
“Just thank you to everyone who has supported me so far,” he said. “My mother was very supportive. My grandfather, who passed away from COVID about a year and a half ago, was always a huge guide in this stuff. (He was trying) to make sure I was pursuing this, but in the right way.
Jennifer Tillotson, Zak’s mother, said she was proud of her son’s accomplishments.
“I’m just thrilled,” she said. “I’m so excited that he’s gotten some recognition for his wonderful talent and all the blood, sweat and tears he’s put into his music over the years.”
Tillotson said she also wanted to thank Melissa Boswell Townsend, managing director of Boswell Media Group who organized the event.
Tillotson’s EP, “Heart in a Notebook,” is slated for release in August. The album’s titular single, a catchy pop ballad in the vein of John Mayer, has already been released and can be heard on Spotify and other streaming services.
The single is about lost lyrics, according to Tillotson.
“I was dating this girl. And I wrote her this cheesy four or five page love poem,” he said. “And I moved out and lost the notebook. Because it was so long, I never memorized the words. So when it happened, she was a little upset.
Tillotson is currently working on a music video for the single and hopes to release it shortly before the release of the EP. After the video was completed and recorded at Muscle Shoals, Tillotson said he planned to record a full album with producer Billy Smiley at Sound Kitchen Studios in Franklin, Tenn.