Moments before being crowned the season 17 winner of the NBC singing competition series on Tuesday night, the 31-year-old Cookeville, Tennessee, resident thanked the star for not only making him a better artist, but also a better parent to his 4-year-old daughter, Macy. Now, he’s explaining exactly what that meant.
“I’ve met a lot of people in the music industry, and a lot of them have kids and families and sometimes they’re not very present, and sometimes that’s not their priority,” Hoot tells PEOPLE. “And one thing that I’ve always struggled with is if I was ever to do music full time, how bad I wanted to make my family a priority in everything I did. Seeing somebody at Kelly’s level — being a mom with kids and holding a million different jobs and always doing something — means a lot. I didn’t know it was possible.”
“We’d talk about our kids almost as much as we talked about anything,” he continues of Clarkson, who shares daughters Savannah, 17, and River, 5, as well as sons Seth, 12, and Remington, 3, with husband Brandon Blackstock. “So it’s nice to see another parent out there that puts their family first and is present in their kids’ lives. She definitely showed me, ‘Hey, it is a possible thing to do.'”
At the finale, Hoot was joined by his daughter (whom he shares with his ex-wife) and his girlfriend, Bekah, as well as her 4-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, Hadley.
“My girlfriend, she was blown away and shocked like I was,” he says. “The girls, I think they were more excited about the confetti that was falling from the ceiling. But regardless, they had a great time, and I think Gwen [Stefani] picked Hadley up so Hadley was talking about that all morning how Gwen picked her up. So it was just a really special moment.”
After the show, Hoot did a press conference with Clarkson, 37, before heading back to his hotel to celebrate some more with his family.
“We all just kind of hung out and talked for a while,” he says. “Then I went out and met up with a bunch of the people from this season and everybody from casting to producers and the band and everything else. It was just really nice to get to see everybody outside of the show. Then I got back and went to bed. It was just a really good night.”
Along with holding the title of winner of The Voice, Hoot is also the recipient of $100,000 in grand prize money. As to how he’s going to spend his grand prize, Hoot says he’ll have a better idea once he gets through Christmas.
“I think we’ll try to get through Christmas first, and maybe buy the girls some really nice gifts,” he says with a laugh. “And then, obviously, I would like to travel at some point. But more than anything I’ve got my eye on a house back home that was built in the year 1900 that I’ve always wanted. So I may be looking at putting a big down payment on that.”
And more money may be coming in soon if an endorsement deal ends up happening between Hoot and the restaurant chain Hooters, which happens to be the same name Hoot’s fans call themselves.
“Honestly, [Hooters has] been amazing,” Hoot says. “Even since the blinds aired, they got behind it and tweeted here and there. Then as I moved further on, the fans started calling themselves Hooters. Hooters themselves really got behind it, and they were amazing. They were tweeting stuff every week about it and trying to rally the troops. But I’m very, very grateful to them and excited to see what the future holds, maybe a working endorsement deal or something with them.”
In the near future, Hoot says fans can look out for new music from him.
“I’m a writer, and I’ve written with some incredible people and definitely have some stuff in the arsenal just kind of waiting,” he says. “But I think the first step is to get through the holidays, come back and regroup and get ready to rock and roll. I don’t know what Kelly has in mind. I know we talked a little bit last night about how she has some ideas.”
“You never want to rush an album or put out something that’s not incredible and not something that you’re fully behind,” he adds. “But I’ve got an EP that I haven’t released yet, so maybe we’ll use some of those. Maybe we’ll write some new stuff, but I’m just excited to get working.”
Like fans have seen during his time on The Voice, Hoot’s new music will stay true to his country sound.
“It’s very country, obviously, but it has also got a lot of undertones of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, bands that I highly respect and absolutely love,” he says. “There’s a whole lot of different influences, but predominantly it’s country. But I think there’s enough rock and roll and some other fields to it to kind of satisfy anybody’s music taste. So we’ll see how it goes.”
As to what he’ll miss most about the show, Hoot says it’s the relationships he has made.
“You become family with everybody, not just other contestants, but the producers and everybody behind the scenes,” he says. “It was just an incredible, incredible time from start to finish. I’ll always be very grateful to everybody that I got to meet and got to share this experience with.”
And, of course, he’ll miss working with Clarkson each week.
“She’s just a wealth of knowledge and she’s a huge supporter and a huge encourager,” he says. “Hopefully the road doesn’t end here, and I’ll be able to get to work with her moving forward. But everything’s just been incredible.”