‘Hell yes, I will do it’
Growing up in the small town of Leesburg, Georgia, Luke Bryan’s television had between three and five channels, depending on the reception on the antenna. He may have listened to country music obsessively, but the opportunities to see his favorite singers were few and far between.
Every fall, he could count on at least one night when he, his siblings, and his parents all returned to their living room.
“You knew when the CMAs were coming,” he recalls. “It was a great family event for us… The fact that I could be in this role is pretty surreal.”
The country superstar is the new host of the Country Music Association’s CMA Awards, which return Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville (and broadcast live on ABC).
Since its debut in 1967, “Country Music’s Biggest Night” has always been hosted by stars of the genre, but they rarely go it alone. Bryan is the show’s first solo host since Vince Gill in 2003.
The concert has been undergoing tremendous change in recent years, after Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood’s record reign of 11 shows from 2008 to 2018. In 2019, the CMAs paired Underwood with Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton. McEntire returned to co-host a socially distanced ceremony with Darius Rucker in 2020.
In the meantime, Bryan has solidified his role as one of the genre’s biggest and busiest stars. Since 2018, he has been a judge on “American Idol” alongside Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. He has his own brand of beer and hard seltzer, and a tiered honky tonk on Lower Broadway in Nashville. After our interview, he flew a helicopter (a hobby he acquired during the pandemic) in Mississippi to close his last tour.
Bryan said when he was first invited to host, “My first reaction was, ‘Dear Lord, I’m doing way too much already. Is this something that I can really devote the time to to really get him out of the park? ‘ “
“I met the senior CMAs, and they were really excited about the opportunity I had to host. I am a student and my passion for country music is something difficult to describe. So I sat down and thought. I’m like, ‘Hey, this is CMAS. They want you to host this thing and run this thing. So I said, ‘Damn, what am I thinking? Hell yes, I will.
Another point of encouragement for Bryan – one that CMAs don’t highlight – is that he’s a seasoned awards host. From 2013 to 2017, he co-hosted television’s other country music awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards. Between that and the “Idol” gig, Bryan says, “there’s no shortage of time in front of the cameras, so I don’t have any anxiety.
When the CMAs announced their new host last month, the news arrived with a statement from Bryan. He unleashed every animator he watched on that TV in Georgia, from Gill and McEntire to Kenny Rogers and Barbara Mandrell, as well as those he watched in person from his running seat.
Yet he is not afraid to break with tradition. Despite being a fan of the Paisley and Underwood brand openings, filled with topical jokes and parody songs, Bryan says, “Seems like the monologues are a bit dated and a bit old-fashioned.”
“My thing is to continue with the music and to welcome everyone. “
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Bryan is also a CMA nominee for the first time in three years – “Buy Dirt,” his collaboration with newcomer Jordan Davis, is up for the Music Event of the Year.
He’s not the biggest winner in CMA history, but he is one of the most effective. His two career victories were for Artist of the Year, the show’s top prize. Bryan says winning his debut in 2014 “marked everything I’ve ever dreamed of.”
If there are regrets about the accommodation concert, he may not have the opportunity to overload his box with “incentives”. In the past, a well-stocked bar has brought friends like Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line, and Little Big Town to cram in for an impromptu party.
“We really enjoy the company,” he says. “I think all artists for the most part are supporting each other and shooting for each other, and it shows. I think the fans can see it too.
And although he flies helicopters, fills arenas, and judges idols, fans still point to Bryan as a comparable figure in the modern country. Last month he stopped to change a flat tire for a woman stranded on the side of the road in Columbia, Tenn. The story went viral when the woman shared a featured video on TikTok.
“As long as I can be in the news and be there to do good deeds, I’m thankful,” he says. “I was just doing what I was born to learn and grow up to be.”
The 55th Annual CMA Awards will air live on ABC at 7 p.m. CT on Wednesday, November 10.