Charles Esten Preps for the 2017 CMT Music Awards

Gets Advice from Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley

It’s only a few short hours before Nashville’s Charles Esten steps into the spotlight to host the 2017 CMT Music Awards, his first gig as a major awards show emcee.

Luckily, Esten heads to Wednesday’s (June 7) show armed with some solid advice from Blake Shelton, who has hosted several ACM Awards in the past.

Unfortunately, Esten wouldn’t share the Shelton wisdom during our interview after Tuesday’s (June 6) rehearsals. But thinking about what Shelton said did make Esten double over in laughter.

“It was just funny — and very Blake,” Esten said. “And it had to do with me not overthinking it. ’Don’t care too much’ would be the gist of it.”

Esten seems destined to host such a show. He is a consummate professional in anything he does whether he’s in character as Deacon Claybourne on the hit CMT series Nashville, performing his original music onstage or making people laugh with his comedic improvisation from his tenure on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

The 2017 CMT Music Awards airs live from Nashville at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Fan-voting for the CMT #SocialSuperstar and the night’s top honor of video of the year is underway at How involved were you in developing the script for the show?

Esten: They made me real involved. They brought me into the process, I think, because they don’t want it to be somebody else’s words in my mouth. It’s important that it sounds like me talking and it feels authentic. All the hosts that I’ve ever watched where they really do well and it clicks, you feel like it’s just them up there talking.

How much pop culture did you study for script material?

All the great hosts do that. And there are definitely some references in there. It’s that sweet spot of, yes, it’s topical, you have an angle on it and it just happens to be funny, too. I saw Brad Paisley the other night, and I asked him for advice. And he had three jokes before he had any advice. But, yeah, you do try to work some of that in the monologue, for sure.

Nashville is in the spotlight right now — the show, the city, everything. Talk about hosting in this environment and during this week especially.

In a town that is red hot all the time. It’s always crazy. Any time you go see music, you miss two other great shows. During CMA Fest, downtown is always packed with fans, and I was at the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final home game this week, and it was insanity. That, on top of the festival and the CMT Music Awards, it’s quite a time to be here.

Would you be thrown if someone threw a catfish onstage tonight?

I would not be surprised if that happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a Zamboni up there. This town is on fire so much for the Predators. But who knows? I wouldn’t mind it. Apparently, that’s good luck.

What is the difference between your work on Nashville and hosting a major awards show?

Nashville is a little bit different. By now, we do Nashville every single day, so there’s no nerves there at all really. Plus, if it doesn’t work, you say, “Cut,” and you try it again. There’s not going to be a whole lot of that on this. Once we get going, it gets going.

There’s a nervousness, in terms of an excitement, that I have actually always loved. If I wanted a job where I didn’t have to worry about that and today would be like yesterday, I could get that. But I was never any good at holding onto those because I’m always looking for my next thing and something I haven’t tried. So, this show Nashville has thrown me in the deep end a number of times, whether it’s getting to play at the Grand Ole Opry or the Bluebird or the Ryman, or presenting at different events and things like this. This is certainly the deep end jumping into a big night like this, and I can’t wait honestly.

How are the CMT Music Awards different from other awards shows you’ve experienced?

I think for me one of the big things about the CMT Music Awards that makes it a little bit different is that it’s fan-voted. And it’s dedicated to that connection between the artists and the fans, and there’s no better connection between artists and fans than country music.

The connection between CMT and country music fans is very strong, too. And I happen to know that because it was that combination that brought Nashville back. It was a combination of a strong fan base that is loyal and dedicated, like so many country fans are, and CMT heard them loud and clear. We appreciate that more than words can say.

It might be almost a little fitting that I get to be here because if there’s anybody that loves CMT and the country music fans, I’m that guy. And on top of that, the artists that we have performing tonight, I feel very lucky.

What awards show moments are you most excited about fans getting to see?

We do have a lot of surprises. I think maybe one of the most meaningful moments of the night will be the all-star jam in honor of the late great Gregg Allman. It’s going to be Darius Rucker, Charles Kelley from Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean and Derek Trucks. I can’t even imagine what that’s going to sound like. I’m looking forward to that and, of course, nobody deserves a tribute more on a night like this than the great Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers. I think their influence in country music is absolutely undeniable. There’s a whole lot of people that have grown up loving their music. I’m among them.

How many wardrobe changes do you have?

Forty-seven wardrobe changes. (laughs) I don’t know. I think five? It might be around there. I think so. I’m not the fastest changer, so I might come out halfway done at some point. We’ll see what happens, but wish me luck.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.