To say Chris Young is determined is a complete understatement.
At age 26, the handsome singer has already won Nashville Star, racked up three consecutive No. 1 singles, just released his third studio album (Neon) and is currently touring with Jason Aldean. Not bad for a guy who knew before he was even a freshman in high school he wanted to pursue a career in country music.
"My joke was, 'I'll sit down on Second Avenue [in downtown Nashville] with a bucket and play guitar if I have to, but this is what I'm doing,'" he confesses.
Fortunately for Young, that wasn't necessary.
The Murfreesboro, Tenn., native began singing onstage while still a high school student. During college, he was performing 150 dates a year, which ultimately led to him fronting the house band at Cowboys Dancehall in Arlington, Texas.
That onstage experience no doubt came in handy when he competed on and won Nashville Star in 2006.
"I probably would have been a little scared if my first experience going and playing live was after I got my record deal," Young says.
"If I went back and looked at myself when I was playing -- that's six, seven years ago -- I would probably be critiquing myself to death," he admits. "The more you play live, it can only help you."
He realizes, however, the "learning curve never ends" when it comes to performing.
"You can always think of something that maybe you haven't done before," he says. "I think it definitely helped prepare me. But at the same time, there's always stuff you're not gonna be prepared for until you're thrust into it."
One thing Young is definitely prepared for is this week's release Neon. "Tomorrow," the album's first single, has already reached No. 4 on Billboard's country songs chart, and the video has remained a fan favorite on CMT.com since its premiere.
The album consists of a pleasing mix of up-tempo tunes including "Save Water, Drink Beer" and "I Can Take It From There," along with heartfelt ballads focusing on life's simple pleasures, including "Flashlight," "When She's On" and "Old Love Feels New." The final track, "She's Got This Thing About Her," pairs Young's warm vocals with keys and an 11-piece string section and is a wonderful conclusion to an album the singer describes as "that next step for me as an artist."
After co-writing seven of the album's 10 tracks, it's easy to see that writing is yet another talent that comes naturally for Young, although songwriting wasn't always something he was interested in focusing on.
"If you'd have asked me when I was 12 or 13 when I was singing, I still never thought about being a songwriter," he admits. "I just never thought that was something that I'd end up doing ... end up loving as much as I do. It's definitely a part of who I am."
Aside from expanding his songwriting endeavors, Young discovered he was stretching himself as a vocalist while recording Neon.
"I was joking when we were making this album," he explains. "I was like, 'I really think I hate myself a little bit because I made all the stuff on this so hard to sing.' But it's exciting. And it goes over well live."
He continues, "I got to play more artistically on this record. There's a lot of stuff that I did on this one that I probably wouldn't have felt that I had the liberty to do on the last one."
That album -- The Man I Want to Be -- proved to be a pivotal moment in his career. Prior to the success of "Gettin' You Home" -- his first No. 1 single -- the entertainer says he thought his career was about to come to an end.
"We had had three singles out ['Drinkin' Me Lonely,' 'You're Gonna Love Me' and 'Voices'] that didn't work -- and a second record on the way."
He admits with a laugh, "All that stuff happens the way it's meant to happen. But, man, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself, 'Don't worry. This is gonna be a hit. It's gonna be all right.'"
Following the success of "Gettin' You Home," Young kept the momentum going as "The Man I Want to Be" and the rerelease of "Voices," both reached No. 1. Nominations for a CMA award and Grammy followed, along with a win at the 2010 CMT Music Awards. Icing on the cake included a performance at this year's CMA Music Festival at LP Field on the day before his 26th birthday -- which he humbly deems a "very good birthday present."
And with the evolution of his career, Young's current success only seems sweeter.
"That was something that I think allows me to be that much more excited about when I get to make a third record," he says. "I remember the first three songs we had out just not doing anything. And my fans and my label and radio all got behind me, and now it's all working.
"It's funny how one song can change everything," he says. "Just completely turn it around."