Country music star Darius Rucker talks defying his skeptics -- including himself

This Sunday could make a good year even better for Darius Rucker.

The singer-songwriter heads to the Academy of Country Music Awards with three nominations, including his Grammy-winning hit "Wagon Wheel."

CBS News' Jan Crawford went with Rucker to his hometown to learn how he defied the skeptics, including himself.

When he takes the stage before thousands of country music fans, when he plays his Grammy-winning song, it's easy to forget a lot of people said it would never happen.

"I didn't think I could get a record deal. Like I say all the time, I wouldn't have given me a record deal," Rucker told Crawford. "I was a pop guy who had just had this huge success with his band and everything had leveled off. Why would I take a chance with ... this new guy in country music? I mean, you know, the pop guy coming on country never works."

Darius Rucker was a pop superstar, lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish. Their first album, released in 1994, sold 16 million copies.

But when the band failed to duplicate that success, the record label lost interest. For Rucker, it was a defining moment, a chance to pursue a dream. He told Crawford he has been a country music fan for his whole life.

"I grew up listening to everything and country was a big part of it. You know Kenny Rogers, Buck Owens, and 'Hee Haw,'" he said.

Rucker said growing up he told people "all the time" that "Hee Haw" was his favorite show on television.

"I was proud of my love of 'Hee Haw.' I had older brothers and sisters who would come down on me, you know, what are you listening to? Why are you listening to that white boy music? I always had my mom to tell them: 'Shut up. Let him listen to what he wants to listen to,'" Rucker said.

Rucker got to the top of country by starting over. There were skeptics -- and not only because of his pop background. Most people involved in country music -- from its fans to its singers -- are overwhelmingly white.

"There was a couple guys who were program directors that were like, 'You know, I'll be honest with you. I never thought my audience would accept an African-American country singer. And I was wrong,'" said Rucker. "They've all looked me in the eyes and said, 'I was wrong. You proved me wrong.'"

What country music fans demand is authenticity. Rucker is genuine, and his music tells stories people can relate to. He now has eight No. 1 country songs, and earlier this year, won a Grammy for best country solo performance.

To sing country, Rucker said you have to have some country in you, and he got his in Charleston, S.C. One of six kids raised by a single mother, Rucker said she taught him to believe in himself and not worry what people think.

When he got married and started his own family, he moved back to Charleston, where he lives in a quiet neighborhood on the marsh.

"For me, it's the view," Rucker told Crawford. "...When it's high tide, it looks like you live on the ocean."

That foundation gives him strength. You can see it when he talks about a rare racial incident -- the time he was greeted with slurs outside a show in Upstate New York.

"We were shocked cause we had been on the road doing this for seven, eight years. People are coming to hear the show. No one is worried about what color I am. They're there to hear the music and have a great time. You either like the music or you don't," he said. "And if you don't like it because I'm black, I don't want you to come to the show anyway."

It's clear people like it -- and so does the industry. Rucker was asked to join country's most exclusive club: the Grand Ole Opry. His friend Brad Paisley extended the surprise invitation.

Off-stage for the surprise were his family and closest friends.

"It wasn't just that I had become a member of the Opry, but it was the fact that all the important people in my life were there," Rucker said. "They all came there to support me. That was awesome."

He told Crawford it was important because "that's something they can never take away from me."

"I'm a member of the Grand Ole Opry. I'm going to be for the rest of my life until the day I die," he said.

To see the full interview with Darius Rucker, watch the video in the player above