Chevel Shepherd is a star in the making.
On Friday, the singer, 18, released her debut EP titled Everybody's Got a Story — and it's complete with original tunes written by hitmakers including Kacey Musgraves, Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark among many more.
Speaking with PEOPLE on the day of its release, the winner of NBC's hit singing competition The Voice's Season 15 opened up about the making of her newest project, which she hopes will serve as a beacon of light amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
PEOPLE premieres the all-new music video for her single "Good Boy" which co-stars her longtime collaborator and friend, Charlie Gillespie of Netflix series Julie and the Phantoms.
In the sweet visual, Shepherd and Gillespie, 22, time travel through a series of first dates beginning in the '50s, as the songstress croons about gaining her parents' approval of her new beau.
"Music connects everybody," she tells PEOPLE. "I think it heals the soul and there's no better time for music than right now. Everybody's separated, but music connects everybody, especially now."
Shepherd, who graduated from Farmington High School in her New Mexico hometown last year, has been simultaneously releasing music and taking online courses since 10th grade, when she competed on The Voice — and she's proud of everything she has been able to accomplish since then.
"[From when I started competing on the show], I didn't go into school much except to visit my favorite teachers and stuff like that," she recalls. "I had really looked forward to having a traditional graduation and walking [across] the stage with a partner, getting my diploma and all of that, but of course that didn't happen [because of COVID-19 safety measures]. But you know, I really was just proud of myself for juggling The Voice, working on music, [beginning] this whole career [and] graduating high school. That was a goal of mine that I was super happy to see succeed."
The vocalist finished recording her EP at the end of 2019 and began releasing her tunes last March, "right as the pandemic started."
"[But Everybody's Got a Story] is like a symbol of hope and light amid the pandemic," says the singer. "[I've been able] to just spend time with my family. Being home is a good thing and [it's] giving me time to work on even more music. I've just been looking on the positive side of things."
On the name of her EP, Shepherd tells PEOPLE, "Everybody does have a story and I got the title from one of the songs. The single tells many different aspects of life that people go through and there's so much more to that. I'm telling my own story through music and I hope that people can relate [with me] and relate their own story in some way."
With a musical background, including her mom who played the piano and her dad who plays the guitar and harmonica, it's no surprise the star-to-be tells PEOPLE that she began singing at just 2 years old, before she could talk.
"I come from a super musical family," she explains. "I grew up singing. [At the time of] my first performance, I was actually 4 years old, and I did it for probably a thousand people."
"My family, they've always been my support system and they just supported me through everything that I've done," she details. "My family really encouraged me to do it actually. And the fact that I love music so much [was my motivation]."
Growing up, Shepherd's parents enjoyed "the best of worlds" of music, ranging from country to classic rock — but it was country music that really stole her heart.
"As I got older, of course, music, it changes all the time growing up, [but] I craved listening to that [country] music on the radio," she remembers. "That's the music that made me fall in love with it. I just want to carry that tradition."
And following in her dad's instrumentally inclined tradition, she says, "The pandemic has gives me an opportunity to learn guitar."
Shepherd is thrilled to record songs written by her industry predecessors, Musgraves, 32, McAnally, 46, and Clark, 45 — but through the years, she says 88-year-old country icon "Loretta Lynn is definitely my biggest inspiration."
"She's always stayed true to her roots and her beliefs and the kind of music she wants to sing and where she's from," the "Good Boy" crooner details. "She's never forgotten who she is and I just really look up to her and her music."
Of course, her Voice coach Kelly Clarkson played a huge role in jumpstarting her career as well. On the best advice the talk show host has given her, Shepherd tells PEOPLE, "She always told me to just be myself. It's a really, really great piece of advice. She also told me to have fun whenever I go out there on stage and I sing. [She told me] to not worry about messing up as long as I'm having fun [because] that's what matters."
And co-starring in the heartwarming music video for her forbidden romance song "Good Boy" alongside her friend Gillespie was nothing short of amazing.
"The first time I met him, we just connected," she recounts of their time on the set of Kenny Ortega's musical Hair. "We have this chemistry and we got super close. I really wanted him in the music video and I really wanted to see him again. So, this was like the perfect opportunity. Whenever we did Hair, we just had the chemistry and I think that really portrays well onscreen. He's a really good friend of mine."
With a first date-themed video, of course Shepherd tells PEOPLE what she feels would be the perfect rendezvous. "It is so hard," she says with a laugh. "Well, I love nature and I like to go hiking. That'd be a fun first date, going hiking and having a picnic, like in the mountains or something, that would be a really fun day."
With the Friday release of her debut EP Everybody's Got a Story, the songstress says, "I really hope that [music listeners can] hear who I am as a musician and as a singer. In future projects, I'm just going to stay true to my roots in the traditional country lane."
Look ahead, Shepherd has quite a few dreams she hopes to one day make her reality.
"I have so many goals," she tells PEOPLE. "I want to sing at the Grand Ole Opry. I want to win awards [and] I want my music to make an impact on people in the world for the better."
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