From Tragedy To Triumph: Luke Bryan Opens Up About His Journey To Becoming A Country Superstar

“I earned it the old-fashioned way: working my butt off,” Luke Bryan shared.

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Melinda Lorge

Melinda Lorge is a Nashville-based freelance writer who specializes in covering country music. Along with Music Mayhem, her work has appeared in publications, including Rare Country, Rolling Stone Country, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Wide Open Country and more. After joining Rare Country in early 2016, Lorge was presented with the opportunity to lead coverage on late-night television programs, including “The Voice” and “American Idol,” which helped her to sharpen her writing skills even more. Lorge earned her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, following the completion of five internships within the country music industry. She has an undeniable love for music and entertainment. When she isn’t living and breathing country music, she can be found enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.

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Posted on August 27, 2023

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Luke Bryan, Backstage at CMA Fest; Photo Courtesy of John Shearer/Getty Images for CMA

Luke Bryan has enjoyed an illustrious and decorated music career spanning two decades. But he shows no signs of slowing down. 

While the country music superstar has been on a brief break from his role as a judge on American Idol, he has been keeping busy on the road as part of his Country On Tour (aside from being sidelined for four shows due to a frustrating “head cold”).

Journey To Superstardom

In a brand-new interview with PEOPLE, Bryan reflected on his early years in music long before he became a five-time Entertainer of the Year, topping the chart numerous times with songs like “Play It Again,” “Strip It Down,” and “Country On.”

Luke Bryan, People Cover; Photo by Jim Wright
Luke Bryan, People Cover; Photo by Jim Wright

During the conversation, he said he remembers having the itch to move to Nashville in his early 20s.

Tragedy Strikes, Dreams Put On Hold

But due to unforeseen family circumstances, involving the loss of his brother, Chris, in 1996, he put his dreams on hold until he was 25. 

Despite that, Bryan says he is glad he waited until his mid-20s to take the leap and venture to Music City because he matured enough to be able to navigate the music business in a way he likely wouldn’t have if he had moved earlier.    

“I think at 20, I would’ve processed it all a lot differently, with a lot less maturity,” he tells the outlet. “When I moved to Nashville when I was 25, I could read people better. I could navigate the shady crowd. It helped me a lot in those aspects.”

Luke Bryan; Photo by Andrew Wendowski
Luke Bryan; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

“When I was younger, I wouldn’t have really known who I was as an artist. Back then, I was just singing other people’s songs and trying to figure out what I want to be,” he continued. “Now I know the main thing is to do your best to tell your story in the most authentic and relatable way. I can’t go back and question any of the stars or fate at how it all shaped out. I look back, and I’m proud of my climb to get here.”

Bryan’s gap years between 20 and 25 years old saw him attending and graduating from Georgia Southern University, where he met his now wife of 16 years, Caroline Boyer Bryan. She played a vital role in his success early on, helping pay the bills while he chased his dreams. 

Triumph, Finds Success With Debut Single

And, while Bryan spent years hustling, that dream finally paid off at age 30 with the release of his debut single, “All My Friends Say.” The track from his 2007 debut album, I’ll Stay Me, peaked at No. 5 on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, marking Bryan’s first chart entry. From there, Bryan would go on to score 30 No. 1 hits. 

At this point, Bryan can sit back and enjoy his accomplishments, but as someone who spent time earning his stardom “the old-fashioned way,” he hopes to take what he knows and use it to benefit other artists on the rise.

“For most of my career, I went up there going, I got to prove myself. So it’s really liberating and gratifying to just go, I am what I am,” Bryan shares. “I earned it the old-fashioned way: working my butt off. A lot of people have propped me up and helped me along the way, and I hope they can enjoy the ride too.”

Advice To Aspiring Stars

Bryan has invested in other artists as a judge on American Idol, offering valuable advice to aspiring stars hoping to make it in the industry. He further extends his goodwill by playing the role of a mentor when it comes to his tours. 

For his Country On Tour, Bryan wrangled together a list of special guests, which included many up-and-comers like Chayce Beckham, Tyler Braden, Ashley Cooke, Jackson Dean, Jon Langston, Conner Smith, Alana Springsteen, Hailey Whitters, and DJ Rock. And he is intentional in who he scouts out for the trek, having helped blaze a trail for artists like Cole Swindell, Dustin Lynch, Morgan Wallen, Riley Green, and many others who have opened up for him in the past. 

“He’s just so genuine,” Springsteen tells the publication of Bryan’s guidance. “What you see is what you get. People say don’t meet your heroes, but that is not the case at all with Luke.” 

Luke Bryan; Photo Courtesy of John Shearer/Getty Images/Resorts World
Luke Bryan; Photo Courtesy of John Shearer/Getty Images/Resorts World

“He’s always been a guy to act on his desire to help and uplift up-and-coming artists,” Smith adds. “It’s been such a blessing to be on the receiving end of that wisdom.”

Country On Tour, Crash My Playa

Bryan’s Country On Tour launched on June 15 in Syracuse, New York, and will continue through Oct. 28, where it will wrap in Charleston, SC. In September, he’ll hit the road for his six-date annual Farm Tour before heading to Sin City for his headlining residency at Resorts World Theatre in Las Vegas.

In addition, Bryan is currently working on his next album, which will follow 2020’s Born Here Live Here Die Here. At the top of the year, he will head to Cancún for his annual Crash My Playa festival, which runs from Jan. 17-20. 

“When I had 100 people in the room, I had a blast, and tonight it’ll be the same thing,” Bryan says of loving his job. “The day you quit loving it, it’s time to move on. Thankfully I’ve never had those feelings. It’s pretty hard for being in front of 20,000 people to get old.”

Luke Bryan; Photo Courtesy of John Shearer/Getty Images/Resorts World
Luke Bryan; Photo Courtesy of John Shearer/Getty Images/Resorts World

“It’s not an act,” he continues. “I’m in the moment. I’m having fun, and I’m feeding off fans’ energy. I love to make people smile. That’s why I fell in love with music.”

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Melinda Lorge is a Nashville-based freelance writer who specializes in covering country music. Along with Music Mayhem, her work has appeared in publications, including Rare Country, Rolling Stone Country, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Wide Open Country and more. After joining Rare Country in early 2016, Lorge was presented with the opportunity to lead coverage on late-night television programs, including “The Voice” and “American Idol,” which helped her to sharpen her writing skills even more. Lorge earned her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, following the completion of five internships within the country music industry. She has an undeniable love for music and entertainment. When she isn’t living and breathing country music, she can be found enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.

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