Jason Aldean is up for three of this year’s major Academy of Country Music Award categories—Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year (Old Boots, New Dirt), and Entertainer of the Year. EW caught up with the jukebox-stomping singer to discuss which entertainers made him the wildly successful performer he is today—after his scorching (no, literally) iHeart Radio Music Award performance, which saw his stage cloaked in flames. (“It was a little warmer up there than I imagined,” Aldean told EW. “Actually, the fire marshal made us turn the flames down a little bit, so I think that actually saved me.”)
“The number one for me would be the group Alabama. They were just different—unlike anything else. They kind of have country, but it was southern rock. Really, they were a rock band that happened to have really good country songs too, and it was something that I was always really drawn to. And Randy Owens, to this day, is probably one of the best entertainers that there’s ever been.”
“Strait’s another big one for me. From a country standpoint—if you look at me now with the Wranglers and the cowboy hat, that sort of vibe, that came from him. He was the guy. I think as a male singer growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, he was the guy that everybody wanted to be like.”
“There’s a guy that, to me, was one of the best singers that there’s ever been. And I mean, for a guy that was a blind piano player, he was a great entertainer—he’d go out and capture an audience just sitting there playing piano, and with his voice. That’s pretty amazing.”
“I think for any us that are in the business right now, it’s hard to not be influenced by Garth. He just kinda came and did everything different. He took all the stuff that you weren’t supposed to do in country music, and put country music on the map by doing it—he was the guy. It made everybody re-look at how to entertain people. You don’t have to stand behind a microphone stand all night and sing. You can have fireworks going off onstage and do all these things that the rock bands do, because Garth did it.”
McGraw is another big one for me, simply because he was kind of a new-agey guy when he came out—a new-age country star. He was a little cooler, a little hipper…he wasn’t as starched and stiff as a lot of the other ’90s country guys. He just kind of came out and did his own thing and he was a little bit of a rebel. His music was different—his songs were great and the production was just different. When one of his songs came on the radio, you knew it was him because nothing else sounded like that. And from a show standpoint, he’s a great entertainer.
BONUS: Florida Georgia Line
“The thing I love about them is, they’re different—they didn’t come out and try to do what everybody else was doing just because it’s popular. They came out and did what they do. As an artist, that’s sort of the mentality you have to have—it’s the way I do things. Ultimately, that’s the way it is because you can’t please everybody. Out of all the artists that have come out over the last year, especially country music, FGL are the ones that sort of stick out in my mind. What they brought to the table was different. They’re doing their own thing. That’s always, to me, the sign of a great artist.”
The ACM Awards air Sunday, April 19th at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.