Chesney Still Surprised by Success

Accepting the CMT Flameworthy male video of the year award for “Young” Wednesday night (June 12), Kenny Chesney gave a pep talk to college students in the TV audience who might be dreaming of a country music career.

Shortly after winning the award, he told the press backstage about his own motivation to become a country star. “I watched Garth Brooks win his first award, and I watched Clint Black win a couple of awards one night,” Chesney recalled.

“I got two guys out there on the road with me right now, Tim and David, who were my college roommates, and they saw me sitting on the edge of the coffee table. They were making fun of me, saying, ‘Man, you’ve got to go study. You can’t watch this.’ But it was my dream, and I went to bed thinking about it. … And I knew I was going to move to Nashville that night.”

Enjoying a banner year — his album No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard pop and country charts -– Chesney doesn’t take the fan-voted Flameworthy award for granted.

“I haven’t won a whole lot of these, so it’s very cool to be recognized by the people that I make my music for,” he said. “I’ve never really made my music for the industry; I’ve made it for the fans, and they waited a long time. I was at my fan club party yesterday, and a lot of those faces have been there since ’94. The fact that they love what I do, and fans all across America are getting into my music now more than ever –- to be able to win this, the significance of winning this is huge, because it came from the people I’m trying to impress the most.”

Though he has notched an impressive number of hits in the last decade –- among them “Me and You” and “How Forever Feels” — even the East Tennessee native was surprised this year when his singing and touring career jumped to the next level of stardom.

“I didn’t know the album was going to be this successful,” he admitted. “I didn’t know it was going to debut as the best-selling album in the whole world. I was in Tower Records in New York not long after this came out, and that’s when it first hit me. I looked around at all the CDs and all the names in there, and I thought, ‘I outsold every name in here.’ It was pretty cool, that was the first time it really hit me.”

His two videos from No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems, “Young” and “The Good Stuff,’ have given his fans a new perspective on his radio-friendly music and crowd-pleasing personality.

“I really feel like [director] Shaun Silva brought out a different side of me that’s never been captured in video before,” Chesney continued. “I was more comfortable in these two videos than with any I’ve ever done in my life. I had my band behind me, and they’re my support system. Especially the ‘Young’ video — I think that video really captured what we do on stage and the energy that we have on stage. The song itself is very relatable to a lot of people, because everyone who is young wants to be old, and everybody who is old wants to be young again. … The song and the video were an incredible way to kick off the album.”

While his music has attracted plenty of attention before, Chesney is getting noticed increasingly for his clean-cut looks and sleek image. Even Flameworthy host Kathy Najimy introduced him saying, “He’s got no shirt, no shoes, and hopefully, no pants.” But does he like being a sex symbol?

“I don’t hate it,” he answered sheepishly. “I’m the same guy I’ve always been, really. It’s kind of surprising now. I don’t know where they get that. But I work very hard in the gym, and I work very hard out on the road. And I happen to be one of the few single guys in country music. I think I sing songs kind of like Conway Twitty did, in a way. Conway sang songs to people –- [especially] females – that they could relate to. … Maybe the females think I understand them, because I sing songs about their lives and the struggles they go through and the insecurities they go through and the passions they have. Maybe that’s why they think I’m sexy. I don’t know.”

Chesney also picked up the night’s top honor, video of the year, for “Young.” That made him the only double-winner on the first-ever CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards. For most stars, it would be cause for celebration. As for Chesney, he had something else on his mind.

“There are a few parties, and we’ll go out and have a good time, I’m sure,” he confessed with a laugh. “But I’ve got to be in the gym at 7:30 a.m., so I’m not going to be partying too much.”