Joe Nichols was playing a festival in Houston, when he got word that his single, "Gimmie That Girl," had reached No. 1 on Billboard's country chart. The song had finally peaked after spending several weeks on the charts vying for position against Lady Antebellum's "American Honey." The singer had been receiving updates on the hour as the song got closer and closer to the top spot.
"You're No. 2," he was told. "You're behind by 15 points." Finally, it made it to the top of the Billboard chart and stayed there for two weeks.
Indeed, he has plenty to smile about these days. The success of "Gimmie That Girl" has generated additional media opportunities, including a performance earlier this week on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and a Tuesday (May 25) appearance on The View. It's his first No. 1 single since 2005's fun-loving, drinking anthem, "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off." But more importantly, it's his first chart-topper since his newfound sobriety.
"I'm sober for the first time," he said. "I'm a sober person. I'm living sober."
His wife, Heather, sat off to the side during the interview with CMT.com and smiled adoringly at him. They married in 2007, shortly before he entered rehab.
Nichols isn't the least bit bashful about where he's been or where he's headed. Checking himself into a rehab facility for substance abuse, he was uncertain of the person or artist he may find on the other side. Would anyone care? Did anyone want to hear his music? Did he still have a voice?
"I had a lot of questions going into making this record," he said, referring to Old Things New, which was released in October 2009. "A lot of self doubt, loss of confidence, false confidence, the false security that booze -- or whatever -- would bring me. That cloud was not there anymore. It can leave an amazing gap with a lot of insecurity filled in there.
"I think I'm a lot wiser," he said regarding his path to recovery. "I have a ton more gratitude than I've ever had in my life -- more humble now. Here I am with a No. 1 song, and I feel more humble now than I ever have at any point in my career."
Nichols was only 20 when he first landed his record deal in 1996. Over the next 10 years, he took songs like "Brokenheartsville" and "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" to the top of the charts. Along the way, he would also rack up a string of five Top 10 hits, including "The Impossible," "If Nobody Believed in You," "What's a Guy Gotta Do," "Size Matters" and "I'll Wait for You."
However, this fresh-faced dreamer's starry-eyed attitude eventually morphed into arrogance as he gained more and more recognition for his success.
"Having that kind of confidence can quickly turn to entitlement -- cockiness," he explained. "So that's where I've matured. That cockiness has gone away. I know that this is all a gift. This is a blessing and I know it can be taken away at any moment."
His strong voice and talent are also intact, never more apparent than in his current music. Plus, he's reached a new state of mind, too, one that's more spiritual. "I pray to God, and I know He listens," said Nichols. "The answer isn't always 'Yes,' but I know he answers."
In addition to his latest wisdom, Nichols' sense of humor is never far behind. When asked what stood out to him most about the single, "Gimmie That Girl," written by Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip, he jokingly replied, "The money."
On a more serious note, he said, "It's a very lovable melody with a lovable lyric. Usually, if you combine those two -- and the women love it -- then you've got yourself a big hit."
When listening to new material, Nichols says he not only relies on the lyrics and melody but also his gut instincts. He focuses on how it makes him feel and whether or not country fans will relate to it.
In the past, many of Nichols' biggest hits have been the carefree, upbeat tunes, despite the fact that his albums are also filled with equally beautiful ballads. But he doesn't mind what brings his listeners to his music, just as long as they listen.
"I think it helps the other songs," he explained. "We know that we can't have 10 singles, but we can try. We can sure take that approach -- that we don't want to leave any slot on the album left with filler."
What's more, the success of Old Things New and "Gimmie That Girl" have restored his confidence in his voice, his music and his place in the music industry. Indeed, he has proven to himself and to his listeners that he was and still is a contender and valuable voice in country music.
"That's why it's such a special feeling because all these questions, they're not just answered in my mind," he explained. "They make me feel like they were valid questions in the first place, and we've come through it the right way. We didn't divert. We didn't go down the old familiar path. I stayed true to what my values are and what I've changed my life to be, and God's rewarding me big time."