By Laura J. Cummings
When country crooner Ben Allen captured America’s attention on NBC’s “The Voice” last fall, Casey Bishop knew something no one else in Estero did. On Nov. 16, 2020, as America watched Allen battle it out in his first head-to-head competition, Bishop —15 years old at the time — was in front of the “American Idol” judges in Ojai, California.
She returned to Estero with a smile and a secret: she had captured a “golden ticket” to Hollywood. America wouldn’t find out until the start of Season 19 in April 2021, but little Estero was on the verge of big recognition.
Obviously, country legend Blake Shelton, a judge on “The Voice,” had never heard of Estero. When Allen said the name of his hometown, Shelton thought it sounded like “Sterile, Florida” and had some entertaining thoughts on who might hail from such a place.
It’s likely most of America hadn’t heard of Estero, either. But two rising stars in music were about to change that.
“My family and I would watch Ben Allen on ‘The Voice,’ and I remember thinking if my audition gets aired around same time, it would be crazy for Estero,” Bishop said.
Who knew Estero was a hotbed of musical talent? Perhaps, it’s simply home to those who believe they can live their dreams.
From a pool of 40,000 people who auditioned, Allen advanced all the way to the top nine on “The Voice.” Mere months later, Bishop made it even further on “American Idol” — coming in fourth.
“We all tuned in, and everybody was talking about it,” said Estero’s then-Mayor Bill Ribble, congratulating Allen during the Jan. 6, 2021, Village Council meeting before Allen was given the symbolic “key to the city” for being a good ambassador for Estero. Plans are in the works for Bishop to receive a key as well.
Now both singers are back in Estero with stories to tell and their sights on full-time music careers.
Ben Performs for a President & Opens a ‘Backyard’ Bar
Allen already had his own band before his appearance on “The Voice,” making it easy to quit his day job with Collier County to focus on music. He’s writing and recording music and playing at some high-brow venues.
Recently, the Ben Allen Band had the unique opportunity to perform at a fundraising gala hosted at a private residence in Naples’ elite Port Royal community, attended by former President Donald Trump.
“Right before they brought him out for his speech, everyone had to stand completely still. Out of nowhere, a stray cat comes wandering up and goes right between the legs of one of the Secret Service agents, and they flip out,” Allen recounted — a humorous moment during his first experience with such high-level security. “It was just a poor little kitty cat.”
When Trump did come out, he was standing right next to Allen and his band as the former president waited for his introduction.
“A helicopter flies over real low, and he looks up and says, ‘fake news’ — and everybody dies laughing,” Allen recalled. Needless to say, it was a memorable night.
Before “The Voice,” the Ben Allen Band was playing in local bars every weekend. With Allen’s newfound fame, they’re now being booked for private parties and corporate events.
“The band is really happy,” Allen said. “To be honest, we are probably playing fewer gigs than we used to — but that’s by choice. Before, we were doing two-to-three bars every weekend year–round. We still love to play those types of shows, but that’s not exactly what we’re shooting for, to stay in the bar scene.”
Although Allen has his sights set higher these days, he’s appreciative of all the Southwest Florida venues that gave his band a stage, helping him build a faithful following.
So when local restauranteur Todd Brooks, of Brooks Burgers, approached him about partnering, he jumped at the chance to create his own venue for Southwest Florida’s up-and-coming performers. Thus was born Ben Allen’s Backyard Grill & Pub.
The former Brooks Burgers location at 12655 Tamiami Trail East in Naples was re-imagined and rebuilt with indoor and outdoor live entertainment space. Although Allen’s performances there will be rare, the Ben Allen Band did, of course, play at the grand opening on June 25.
“I will admit, I was particularly nervous for that show; it felt like I had more skin in the game,” said Allen. “Fortunately for the patrons, I’m not involved in the day-to-day operation of that. I don’t know anything about the restaurant business.”
That part belongs to Brooks, who brings 40-plus years of experience in food and hospitality. He and his wife were Ben Allen fans a full decade before Allen’s appearance on “The Voice.”
“I started having him come play at our restaurants,” Brooks said. “His music is fantastic, he’s humble and has good personality. It was a good vibe whenever he was around.”
That’s the vibe Brooks has tried to create with Ben Allen’s Backyard.
“We said, ‘Let’s do a music venue that’s fun.’ We want people to hang out, not just come and eat and leave,” Brooks said.
The “backyard” has artificial turf, a 10-by-six-foot outdoor TV, corn hole and pool tables. The drink menu features what Brooks calls “creative cocktails” with plenty of whiskey and bourbon.
Monday is open mic night, Tuesday is karaoke night, and Wednesday through Sunday, expect live music. To stir things up a bit, the first Thursday of the month will feature a comedian.
Allen brought his family out to a recent open mic night.
“I’m gonna get up there and try my luck,” he posted on his Instagram account for the Aug. 26 open mic night. “Let me encourage all musicians and singers to come out and give it a try if you haven’t…This is how I started, and I almost didn’t do it. I’m sooooo glad I did and you will be too!”
An avid cyclist, Allen often finds songwriting inspiration as he’s peddling his bike.
“I’ve written a lot of lyrics sitting on a bicycle seat,” he said. “A million times, I’ve had to stop and grab my phone and put something in my notes. If you get a line, you won’t remember it later.”
These days, Allen is loving life in Estero and enjoying more time than ever with his wife, Laura Youmans, and their family.
“Time is the most valuable thing we have. I had spent the last decade working full–time for the county and full time as a musician. Now, having more time to devote to music and to everyday life, is a huge change and a massive blessing,” Allen said.
He even had time to go python hunting with Dusty “Wildman” Crum in the Everglades during the Florida Python Challenge.
Soon, Allen plans to release an original patriotic song (follow the Ben Allen Band on Instagram and Facebook for the latest), and he has his sights on playing at Nashville’s famed Grand Ole Opry.
“I would love, love, love to play the Opry! That’s most definitely on my bucket list,” he said. “I can honestly say I can see a path to do that — possibly in the next year.”
Casey Gets Her First Concert
Starting a music career is a bit more challenging for Casey Bishop. When she became a contestant on “American Idol,” she had never performed in front of a live audience, aside from a handful of school talent shows. And she’s still just 16.
Bishop anticipates signing with a record label soon, but for now, she’s getting some well appreciated downtime.
“I’m playing my guitar and writing music,” Bishop said. “I’m being homeschooled this year and focusing on music. I can make my own schedule if have to go to L.A.
“I still sing in my bathroom,” she added, “but I got a huge amp and speakers in my room. Having downtime and writing my music is really good for me.”
Not to say she doesn’t miss the chaos of the Idol journey.
“It was a lot of fun. I miss everybody,” Bishop said. She keeps in touch with many of her fellow contestants, including American Idol winner Chayce Beckham.
“When they announced his name, I was so happy for him,” she said. “I never thought I was going to win. I never pictured myself up there winning. I was so shocked I ended up where I was. I didn’t even think I was going to make it through my audition. Each round, I thought I was going to get cut.”
Because Bishop made it to the top five on the show, she was in Hollywood for a solid three months. She was the only contestant who never got to fly home — the top three got to perform a hometown concert, something Bishop narrowly missed.
Her Southwest Florida fans finally got what they wanted on June 19, when Bishop performed at her very first concert in the parking lot of Buddha LIVE in Fort Myers. The crowd numbered nearly 900.
“That was insane. It was so great,” Bishop said. “My adrenaline was finally pumping for the fist time in a while since Idol.”
Despite performing for a nationwide viewing audience on “American Idol,” Bishop had never faced a crowd. The studio audience was small due to COVID restrictions.
“I’ve never sang in front of that many people before. I was really nervous,” she recalled of her hometown debut. “As soon as I walked onstage, I was fine. I felt so comfortable. You could feel the energy.”
Among the crowd, front and center, were family members and many friends.
“It was so cool,” she said. “It was such a good night and so crazy.”
If Bishop knows anything, it’s that she wants more nights like that.
“I love it here, but I’m ready to get out,” she said. “I was so happy on the go. I kinda miss the chaos.”
Bishop said her family is supportive of her ambitions, especially her mom, Danielle Davis, who was by her side throughout her Idol journey.
“It’s tricky for her with work. Thankfully, her boss is an Idol super fan,” Bishop said.
On “American Idol,” Bishop found she felt confident singing in an expensive Balenciaga suit. If she could combine that feeling with the energy of live concert crowds, she’d be living her dream.
And there’s no doubt in her mind she’ll get there. But these days you’ll be most likely to find her on a Southwest Florida beach. Or, if you’re lucky, you might catch her on karaoke night at Buffalo Chips Restaurant in Bonita Springs — where she first picked up a mic at age five and discovered her personal happy place.
Now, said Bishop, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”