Chris Young's voice might be traditional country, but he's never done things the traditional way. "I was classically trained. I can sing in a bunch of different languages. I studied jazz," he told – and then demonstrated – to CBS News' Jan Crawford. He's one of the many country music stars looking to make an impression at Sunday's Academy of Country Music Awards, where he'll face strong competition for male vocalist of the year.
"Everything is in my phone. I listen to, literally, every style of music, all of 'em. But country's my favorite," he said. "So I sing country."
And sing he does. He's racked up 10 No. 1 hits. Young was inspired by his grandfather who played on the old radio show the Louisiana Hayride. But Nashville wasn't serving up record deals to unproven singers with traditional sounds. Twelve years ago his big break came when he won a televised talent show.
"I got my record deal out of that show. And I'm like, 'OK, now we're gonna take off,'" Young said. But his first three singles landed with a thud. He figured the fourth would be his last chance.
"No matter how much people believe in you, you're kind of like, they can only believe in you for so long, unless something happens," Young said. "I said, 'If this song dies, I'm probably off the label, aren't I?' And it was just that moment of, 'Well, we're gonna see what happens."
That song took off and became Young's first to go to No. 1. It launched a career that now has him selling out arenas and membership in the Grand Ole Opry. But the journey to country music's most exclusive club was filled with challenges. A small cut on his leg when he was grinding it out as a young singer turned into a serious scare.
"I went intoon the plane. Took me to the ICU. Almost died," Young said. "I never really broadcast it so much. But they came in and they were like, 'Hey, we're gonna take you into surgery now 'cause your blood pressure is so low, we're concerned about organ failure.'"
So Young was already feeling grateful when he was backstage at an outdoor music concert in Las Vegas last year that turned into a
"It was really scary. You know, I called my mom and my sister in the middle of the night…to kinda tell 'em, 'Hey, I'm in Las Vegas. You guys know I'm here. I'm all right," he said. "It was definitely a moment of always tell the people you love you love 'em as much as possible."
That gratitude comes through in his interactions with fans and his amazement at how far he's come. His story now draws crowds at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
"You know, you look backwards. And then you look forwards…. This is amazing. Live in the moment. Enjoy it.... Then wake up and go, 'OK, now what else do I need to do?'"
When Young takes the stage this Sunday to perform at the ACM Awards, it will be something of a somber return to Las Vegas, but he hopes music can be a small act of healing.