I’ll admit that I don’t watch music competition shows like I did when I was younger. When I watch TV, it’s usually a mind-numbing procedural or mystery.
But thankfully, a lot of the people I interview got their start on a show and if they are country, they often find their way into my email inbox. Because the competition is so fierce, most of the artists pitched to me are outstanding performers. Orlando Mendez is one such artist and I feel privileged to tell his story.
Orlando Mendez, aka “The Cuban Cowboy”, was born and raised in Miami, Florida. He is a second-generation Cuban American who found a love for country music at an early age. His grandparents escaped the Castro regime and ended up raising their family in Miami. Country music was not the main music he heard/listened to but that all changed once Darius Rucker began to pursue his solo career in country music.
He heard Rucker’s newest hit, “Come Back Song” on the radio.
Mendez recalled, “I recognized his voice from my youth. And it's because he was the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish. I heard a bunch of that growing up. And I loved the song. I kind of fell in love with the song “Come Back Song,” and the lyrics and the story that it told. And I was like, ‘Let me start listening to some of his other stuff.’ After I went through the Darius catalog that led me to Dirks Bentley.”
He eventually discovered Blake Shelton, which expanded his country music horizons even further.
He reflected, “From that moment there as a kid, I fell in love with the storytelling, with the melodies, with how relatable it was. And that is kind of what brought me to country music.”
After high school graduation, Mendez attended the University of Florida where he got a degree in theater. He pursued an acting career and acted in several plays along with other opportunities. But his burgeoning career was shut down by COVID.
“That’s when I decided it was time that I pick up a guitar and learn how to play and write my own songs. I had always written poems and lyrics. Like I said, I was just infatuated with country lyrics. And I finally was able to put some chords down to them and kind of changed everything for me,” he confirmed.
Because of his previous acting career, Mendez was on a lot of casting lists. He got several notifications about NBC’s The Voice, but he blew them off. However, his friend informed him, “You’re auditioning for this. If you don’t sign up, I’m signing you up.”
The thing that I find most endearing about The Voice is the blind auditions. Initially, it is based on someone’s voice alone. Just listening to Orlando Mendez, he is as country-sounding as any Nashville artist out there. You would have never imagined that he wasn’t raised with country music.
His cover of Luke Combs’ “Beer Never Broke My Heart” earned the singer a four-chair turnaround. And, while Blake Shelton was persistent, Mendez would end up choosing fellow Cuban, Camila Cabello, as his coach. He wowed America with his rendition of “Rocket Man “in The Voice Battles which led to his glorious interpretation of Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” in the Knockout Rounds.
And while country crooner Bryce Leatherwood would eventually end up winning Season 22 of The Voice, we knew with Orlando Mendez, we had another country singer whose star was on the rise.
Mendez now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is currently recording his debut EP, Where I Am Right Now. The title track has been released along with the very personal “Front Porch Heartbreak” (my favorite) which proves he belongs in country music community as he shares his truths with his fans. With lyrics that make you ache alongside him; he is reminiscent of a young Lee Brice.
His newest single, "Heart On The Line" delves into the universal themes of love, vulnerability, and self-discovery. Orlando's soulful vocals and lyrical prowess converge to craft an emotional masterpiece that resonates on a deeply personal level. The track paints an intricate portrait of a heart in turmoil, caught between the shades of love and loss, showcasing Orlando's ability to channel raw emotions into a powerful musical experience.
With his background in acting and his standout performance on The Voice, Mendez has honed his ability to command the stage and connect deeply with his audience. With his forthcoming EP, he promises a collection of songs that offer an intimate glimpse into his personal journey, inviting listeners to connect with his experiences and emotions. His music is steeped in authenticity, seeking to forge a profound connection with listeners as they navigate life's intricate tapestry of emotions.
His aim as an artist is to bring the vibrancy and energy of Cuban culture to the truth and simplicity of country music. His roots are steeped in his heritage, infusing his music with a distinctive blend of cultural richness and contemporary country lyrics, but without overlooking the traditional country impression that first led him to the genre.
Orlando Mendez's journey, from a boy singing in his Miami home to an artist on the verge of releasing his heartfelt music to the world, exemplifies the power of dreams, dedication, and a genuine connection to the craft. As he takes his first steps toward a promising future, Mendez’s unwavering spirit and musicality continue to resonate, reminding us all that every note sung, and every story shared reflects a life well-lived and a soul deeply felt.
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