With industry voters a dominant influence on awards shows, it seems it may have taken the music business a while to catch up with fans as Aldean was stealthily becoming a superstar.
Now, Aldean’s luck appears to be changing. This year, he’s vying for two major prizes at the Academy of Country Music Awards: Entertainer of the Year, the night’s biggest honor, and Top Male Vocalist of the Year. They are his first-ever nominations in both categories. And last December, he was recognized as one of CMT’s Artists of the Year, where presenter Keith Urban said of Aldean, “Anybody that’s been to his concerts knows they’re insane high-energy. He gives it up every time.”
Aldean admits his lack of awards show recognition to date has been frustrating, but he says, “It’s also something that I don’t get bitter about or mad about. I don’t feel like I need awards and those kinds of things to validate my career. Are they nice to have, sure. It would be great to have that recognition at some point, but I don’t feel like my career’s a failure because I don’t get those things, either.”
“I don’t read too much into it,” he adds. “I figure we keep doing what we’re doing and, eventually, if people want to take notice and nominate us for some of those things … then that’s cool. If not, then we’ll keep doing the same thing we’ve done for the past five or six years.”
Aldean, who was Billboard magazine’s top male country artist of 2010, also has a theory about why industry kudos haven’t come his way sooner.
“I knew when I signed my record contract that I had signed to basically the smallest record label in town,” he says. “Everybody else has probably two or three times more [record label member] votes than we have. So it’s tough.”
He’s signed to independent label Broken Bow Records, owned by a California car dealer who was an industry outsider when he launched the label and is still not a well-known figure on Nashville’s Music Row, despite his success.
But, again, Aldean professes not to care, “as long as fans know who I am and they are coming out to the shows and buying records and supporting us. I’ve always said the best trophy you can get is one of those platinum record trophies. I’ll take those any day.”
He has three of them so far.
The Georgia native’s fourth album, “My Kinda Party,” was certified platinum just 11 weeks after its 2010 release, becoming his third platinum seller. The current album’s duet with Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” recently became his sixth career No. 1 radio single. To date, Aldean’s albums have sold a total of more than 5 million copies.
Currently in the midst of his My Kinda Party arena tour, the outing was recently extended after Aldean sold 154,000 tickets for the tour’s first 14 shows. He recently played for his biggest crowd ever, 18,000 fans at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. With 18 new shows added, the tour will now continue through the end of August.
Aldean says touring as the headliner with a large-scale production is something he’s dreamed of his whole life. As a teenager, when he was already performing and building a regional following, he’d wander around amid the buses and trucks backstage at major country tours, seeking autographs.
“For me, being a musician [as] a young teenager, I just thought that was the coolest thing ever.” Now, he says, “Sometimes I get off the bus and I walk back there and I’m seeing all these semis that are ours, and buses, and all this production, and all these people that are working and scrambling around backstage. It’s just a cool deal.”
As a young teen without a driver’s license, Aldean had to rely on his mother to take him to shows and wait around for him to finish performing. Asked what his mother thinks of his success now, Aldean says, “I think she just kind of is blown away. She came out to a show [late last year], and we were sitting in my dressing room and she said, Did you ever think when you were playing some of those dumps that you were playing back in the day that it would turn into this?’ No, honestly I didn’t. It’s amazing for not only me, but everybody that’s watched my career over the last 16-17 years that I’ve been playing music. It’s just crazy, unbelievable.”
As a headliner, he makes sure to treat his opening acts well, since he’s been in that slot many times himself.
“I’ve been on tours where people out there have made me feel really comfortable and it’s been a fun experience, and then I’ve been on tours that were a little bit more stressful,” he says. “So I always said if I get to that point, I want to make sure the atmosphere around the whole tour is fun. That’s something I’ve always tried to do.”
He’s currently out with Eric Church and the JaneDear Girls. For the summer leg of the tour, the openers will be Chris Young and Thompson Square.
With two small children at home with his wife, Aldean admits the only part about touring he doesn’t love is the separation.
“My favorite part of the day on the road is getting onstage and doing my songs. I love playing live,” he says. “That’s why I got into the business. But when you have kids it makes it tough, especially the first couple of years. If the kids are young, they don’t understand why you used to be home seven days a week, and now you might not even be home seven days a month.”
But he says his family has adjusted to his schedule, and sometimes even joins him on the road. “It was just a matter of finding a happy medium, finding something that worked for us and a system that was good for us,” he says. “For me, it was trying not to be gone for any longer than two weeks at a time before I get to come home.”
Meanwhile, his children will be cheering him on at Sunday night’s Academy of Country Music Awards, where he will perform, along with hoping to win two trophies. The show airs live from Las Vegas on CBS, beginning at 8 p.m. (ET).
By Phyllis Stark
Special to MSN Music