Kenny Chesney has been a fan favorite since his first Top 10 hit, “Fall in Love,” in 1995. Now it’s clear he’s popular in the country music industry, too, after winning his second CMA entertainer of the year trophy on Monday night (Nov. 6).
“It wasn’t always this way,” Chesney told reporters backstage when asked about being recognized by his peers. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot throughout the years. We didn’t get a lot of industry recognition early on, and I might have been guilty of getting a record deal too early, too. I’m not really sure.”
After a quick and modest laugh, he added, “You can teach somebody to sing in the studio and to make a record, but you can’t teach somebody to connect with people through a song. Either you can do it or you can’t. And I think when I look into the audience, and I try to look into the eyes of everybody, I can see that they believe what we’re singing and that our music has been believable. That’s what makes me the proudest.”
The CMA Awards are traditionally the last big event of the year for country artists. Reflecting on 2006 — from the sold-out stadium shows to his initial doubt about finding the right songs for his latest studio album, The Road and the Radio — Chesney told reporters, “This year has been in ways the most emotionally satisfying year and also the most emotionally draining year of my life. There have been so many ups and downs. It’s like a huge emotional rollercoaster ride.”
The self-described “hillbilly rock star out of control” (as he refers to himself in “Living in Fast Forward”) nevertheless remains dedicated to the road. “So many people come not only to hear the songs they hear on the radio but also come to hear the songs, from what I can see, that they’ve lived their life with,” he said. “To be able to have that happen to you is bigger than anything I could have dreamed as a kid in East Tennessee. I’m sure of that.”
He also beamed when asked about George Strait’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame — an honor Chesney called “deeply satisfying.”
“I had dinner with George last night, and I’ve become friends with him,” Chesney said. “I literally used to sit on a stool on a stage in a room a lot smaller than this one, in a bar a lot smaller than the room we’re in now, and I sang a lot of George Strait songs over and over again. I know I’ve won entertainer of the year from the CMA twice, but if someday there’s a kid out there who I mean half as much to, as George Strait does to me, then I would consider myself a success despite any of this. I’m honored to know him. I’m honored to be his friend. He’s my hero.”
This year, Chesney was also nominated for single of the year (“Summertime”), album (The Road and the Radio) and male vocalist. This is his third CMA award. He won entertainer and album of the year in 2004.