Billy Dean received a basketball scholarship to attend East Central Junior College in Decatur, MS, where he majored in physical education, but instead of wearing a whistle around his neck, he opted for a guitar strap. Inspired by Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins, and Dean Martin, he played the club circuit along the Gulf Coast in Florida and used national talent contests as a vehicle for his music. He made the finals of the Wrangler Country Star Search in 1982, then won as a Male Vocalist champ on Ed McMahon's Star Search program in 1988. Even before the release of his debut album, Young Man, he'd already gone on tour as an opening act for Mel Tillis, Gary Morris, and Ronnie Milsap. In the midst of recording, Dean also dabbled in television. He contributed to commercials for Valvoline, McDonald's, and Chevrolet, and had an acting role in the brief Elvis series on ABC-TV in 1990. He landed bit parts on soap operas and dramas, and even hosted the 1994 season of ABC in Concert Country.