Luria Freeman
February 09, 2018 at 03:32 PM EST

Thursday night, Evvie McKinney was named the first-ever winner of Fox’s newest hit singing competition, The Four: Battle for Stardom, after only first appearing on the penultimate episode of the show.

Last week, judges Meghan Trainor, DJ Khaled, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Republic Group President Charlie Walk were visibly smitten with the Memphis native from the first note of her rendition of Andra Day’s “Rise Up.” The 20-year-old soon dethroned a residing member of The Four and was guaranteed a spot in the finale, where she dominated and won the recording contract with Republic Records.

From the moment she was introduced, McKinney was open about her upbringing. As the youngest of seven, she and her family lived in public housing during her childhood. She claims that music was an integral part of her family dynamic. After all, her late father was a gospel and blues singer.

Still reeling from her shocking win, McKinney took a moment on Friday to chat with EW about the experience.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations! How are you feeling now that you’ve had some time to let the news settle in?
EVVIE MCKINNEY: I feel like a superstar. Time is constantly going by, and I still can’t believe that I won this whole thing, but I feel so blessed.

It was definitely a whirlwind experience; you were only on the show for two weeks. What was your process like to get in front of the judges?
A family friend contacted me and he told me that this producer from the show was looking for talent to be on the show. I sent her an email so that she could send me a little more background information about the show: the concept, what it was about, and stuff like that. But the email she was responding to — I sent an email that said, “When’s the latest I can send the videos?” She responded back and she was just like, “Send them as soon as possible,” but she had already told me in a text message that she had received my first videos that I had sent. So, I looked at that as God was telling me, “Send some more videos girl, so you can get on this show.” And that’s what I did. Next thing you know, she loved the videos and she said, “I’m presenting you tomorrow to the producers.” When she said that, I was like, “Are you for real?” And they flew me out [to Los Angeles], probably three days later. I auditioned for the show. Then they flew me back to Memphis. They flew me back out to actually be on the show, and that was when I sung “Rise Up” and “I Never Loved a Man.” That was just the audition process, but I when actually got on the show and got a seat, stuff just started happening so fast. Like, after I got a seat, the next morning I was in the studio recording.

OK, let’s flash back to finale night. You’ve just attacked the tear ducts of everyone sitting in the audience with your performance of Common and John Legend’s Grammy winner, “Glory,” and now you’re watching competitor Candice Boyd perform “Stay” by Rihanna. What was going through your mind?
I was just thinking, “This is just gon’ be a tough decision.” Of course, I don’t know what DJ Khaled and Diddy and Meghan were thinking, but Candice is just so talented. Vocally, she can do anything. Her range is insane. She has so much control over her vocals, it’s crazy. As singers, that’s something we all wish to have. But, what I brought to the table was the soul and the rawness and the entertainment. I thank God for that, because it’s gon’ take me a real long way.

Speaking of your “entertainment” value, how long have you been performing? Your performances are such a full-body experience.
Ever since I was a little girl singing in church, I always performed like that. It’s just something comes over me and I just get in the zone. I just love to entertain people. It’s so uncomfortable for me to stand in one spot. It’s so uncomfortable for me to deliver a song without me actually touching somebody. A lot of people on the comments on the videos I posted on YouTube and Facebook and Instagram, so many people have said, “Oh my goodness, she’s giving me chills!” I think for people to feel that, it means so much because it’s not just saying, “She sound good,” “She look good,” but “She feel good when she sing.” Honestly, I think that’s why my fans love me so much because they feel how much that I love to do what I do. So young, but so great, and I’m so grateful to have this gift and to be able to share it with the world.

You mentioned in your introduction video on The Four that your dad told you you’d be “the next Alicia Keys.” How does it feel to see this dream realized no that he has passed away?
I feel like everything happens for a reason. It was nothing we could do to stop my father from passing away; it was in God’s will for him to go ahead and pass away. But I do think something as amazing as being on this show and coming in on the fifth episode and taking home the trophy was just God’s work as well. I feel like my father had a lot to do with the reason why I’m on this stage and to win the whole thing is just something I really didn’t expect. But I won and I went in and I left everything on the stage. I really wanted to win, and I think that’s why I won.

It’s been less than a day, but are you already seeing this accomplishment affect your personal life?
The most amazing thing about one day being at the bottom and the next on top is that the whole world has seen me, and they’ve heard me and they have felt me — most importantly, they have felt me. I get so many DMs from teenage girls who are in middle school and in high school and they tell me, “I wanna be like you,” “My father passed away as well,” or [their] mom or auntie or cousin. It’s so many different things that go on in these people’s lives and they look at me, and because of my story, it’s helping them just be grateful for what they have. Honestly, that’s the most important thing.

[Editor’s Note: McKinney was asked not to comment on the absence of the show’s fourth judge, Charlie Walk, sat out the finale following allegations of sexual misconduct, but noted that her prize, a recording contract with Republic Records, remained the same. Walk released the following statement on Thursday: “Out of respect for the contestants, my fellow judges and everyone involved with the show, I have made the decision not to attend the finale of The Four. I do not want my presence to be a distraction. Needless to say this is very upsetting. Although I continue to support the ‘Me Too’ movement, there has been an extreme rush to judgment against me in this particular case which is unfair and inconsistent with anything that even actually happened. I welcome any investigation so that in short order these unfounded and hurtful accusations can be put to rest.”]

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