Keith Urban is not your regular country music star

Last Updated Mar 31, 2017 1:06 PM EDT

This Sunday Keith Urban will perform at the 52nd Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS. The superstar leads all performers with seven nominations, including entertainer of the year, album of the year and song of the year.

When he takes the stage, you can tell by the crowd and his outside-the-box collaborations that Urban is not your regular country music star. Urban was already famous in Australia before he moved to the U.S. in 1989, but Nashville was skeptical. 

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve paid your dues for a decade somewhere else, which is what I’d done. ‘Cause it’s like a different currency, you know?” Urban told CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford. “You come here and you pretty much start at the bottom and work your way up.”

But Urban didn’t compromise, and today with 22 No.1 singles, he’s considered among the best in the business.  

“What was driving you to just be you, Keith Urban, and not try to just copy what the hot sound was?” Crawford asked.

“Well, ‘cause I didn’t think there was any one that I was enough like,” Urban responded. “I’d grown in country music, I’d played in plenty of cover bands playing raw pop top 40. But I loved country, but I loved a little bit of edge.”

Staying true to his unique sound, Urban started working with more experimental producers.

“They would just kind of let you be you?” Crawford asked.

“Yeah, just looser and a little less by the book,” he said. “You know, which is right up my alley.”

More than a decade after he first arrived, his single “Somebody Like You” skyrocketed to No. 1. On his most recent album, you can hear Urban’s diverse influences, with a cameo by none other than Pitbull.

“I heard him on a song one time, wherever I was. I heard that voice, which I’ve heard many times. But on that particular day I heard it, I went, ‘He would kill on “Sun Don’t Let Me Down.” He would – I just – he’d be fantastic on that,’” Urban said.

“He’s got the right flow. I mean, that song is super sexy. It’s tongue-in-cheek sexy,” Urban added. 

Fans of Urban’s guitar-driven country would say he knows something about sexy, but growing up, his guitar meant something different.

“I was pretty shy,” Urban said. “I was a bit lost without my guitar. The guitar was quite the – Linus’s security blanket for me. It was something that I could hide behind, you know? I’m still a little bit uncomfortable onstage taking it away.”

He said his late father encouraged him find to his rhythm.

“He was always tappin’ on the table and… whenever we’re in the car and he’s got the turn signal on, he would start tapping a groove to the turn signal. And I do the exact same thing now,” Urban said. “My kids in the back will start mimicking me. And I don’t realize I’m doin’ it. But I’ll look for every rhythmic combination of that, ‘tick, tick, tick, tick.’”

But outside the music, there were well-known struggles with drugs and alcohol and two stints in rehab. The last one was right after he married actress Nicole Kidman in 2006, all part of what Urban calls his journey.


Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban

David Becker, Getty Images

“I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve come to be at peace with it because it’s all part of where I am today. And I love where I am. So, the only things I’ve ever had to work through is the hurt it’s caused other people,” Urban said.

He credits Kidman with getting him back on his path, and her guiding presence can be felt in his new hit single, “The Fighter,” which he introduced to fans with a playful video posted online.

Keith Urban & Nicole Kidman: The Fighter by Keith Urban on YouTube

“For me, it’s a song about trying to wrap myself around my wife’s tenderness and purity and fragility, to allow that to stay intact and not get hardened to the world,” Urban said. “I feel that’s my role. … I want the best for her. I want her dreams to come true. I wanna do whatever I can to help that happen, you know? That’s just love, isn’t it?”

“And all the things in the past that you may regret, that’s put you where you are, in some ways, today,” Crawford said.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m probably at peace with the regret, you know, if there’s any way to be that. It’s – I don’t dwell on it. That’s what it is. I don’t dwell on it. And I try and make my life a living amends to people who I wanna make amends to,” he said.

Urban turns 50 later this year, but he doesn’t spend much time looking back or forward. He’s learned to live in the moment.

Today the shy kid from Australia is considered one of music’s best entertainers, but it’s in the studio where Urban has found his place.

“It’s one of the things I really, really love more and more. I love being in the studio and spending lots of time building and shaping and –” Urban started.

“Creating,” Crawford said.

“Creating, yeah. It’s a magical place. I’ve always found it magical, because you capture something,” Urban said.

After his big night this Sunday at the ACM Awards, Urban heads to Washington for a different kind of honor. He’s receiving an award for his contributions to music education – work he said is an effort to make sure today’s kids get the same chance to find their voice as he did as a shy kid in Australia.