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“I’m a massive Usher fan,” Davis, 35, exclusively tells Us Weekly while discussing his involvement in Crown Royal’s partnership with the CMA Awards and Bunker Labs. The campaign, which is in its sixth year, benefits military veterans and their families.
In addition to being up for a handful of wards, Davis is set to perform at the 2023 ceremony, taking place on Wednesday, November 8, at the Bridgestone Area in Nashville. Another performer set to rock the show is Post Malone, who will play a medley of country classic hits alongside HARDY and Morgan Wallen. While Malone, 28, wears his love for country openly (and permanently, in the case of his Johnny Cash tattoo), he’s not the first name that comes to mind when considering that genre. When Davis was asked about which “country adjacent” star he would pick for a hypothetical CMA jam session, he picked the R&B legend without hesitation.
“As a matter of fact,” shares Davis, “I didn't do this on purpose, but my last tour stop happened to be in Vegas during Usher's residency. So, I actually stayed back and got to go to one of the nights of Usher's residency.”
For Davis, Usher, 45, was hitting his first run of mainstream success “when I was starting to explore other genres outside of whatever my dad was listening to,” the “Next Thing You Know” singer tells Us. “He was one of those guys that, I think his music was so different. He was that first guy that — obviously, a vocal powerhouse, but I would say seventh/eighth grade–me was as big of an Usher fan as there was. So, that would be my guy.”
Having Usher join Davis wouldn’t be that far of a stretch. In 2015, while he was a judge on The Voice, Usher covered his then-fellow judge, Blake Shelton, performing versions of “Neon Light” and “Home” at United Way of Dallas’ 90th Anniversary celebration, according to Rolling Stone. The duo later performed “Home” together at Shelton’s Healing in the Heartland Benefit, which raised millions of dollars for tornado victims.
Like Shelton and Usher, Davis has a solid commitment to helping others. It’s why, he tells Us, he was honored when Crown Royal asked him to partake in this year’s event with the CMA Awards.
“Crown Royal has a longstanding relationship and supporting military and helping veterans, and that's really close to me,” says Davis. “Both my grandpas served, and my cousin was a Marine, so the military has been super close to my family. I've always said that servicemen and women are doing something that I wasn't brave enough to do.”
Davis jumped at the opportunity to work with Crown Royal’s CMAs campaign. Ahead of the show, Davis and the whiskey brand hosted veterans from Bunker Labs for the Purple Bag Project, turning the brand’s signature purple bags into care packages for active military members. During the awards show on Wednesday, Crown Royal will debut a live integration featuring Davis and Bunker Labs, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting military veterans and spouses in their entrepreneurial pursuits.
During the ceremony, Davis will present Bunker Labs CEO Blake Hogan with the “That Deserves a Crown” award, highlighting Bunker Labs' work with the military. Afterward, Crown Royal will continue its Generosity Month campaign, giving back to those who serve.
“To see these servicemen and women continue to serve is truly just a selfless act that I think is something we can't say ‘thank you’ enough for,” says Davis of Bunker Labs. “So I'm honored to be a part of it, and I’m very grateful to Crown Royal for letting me be a part of it.”
The Crown Royal partnership is the latest of Davis’ charitable efforts, having worked with Folds of Honor and the Ryan Seacrest Foundation in the past. He tells Us that this humanitarian spirit comes from a place of gratitude.
“I think a lot of it is just realizing how blessed I am to get to do what I get to do,” he says. “It’s even crazy for me to say, right now, that I write and sing songs for a living. That’s absurd.”
He continues: “Everybody has the ‘want’ to help people in need. I think my mom was huge in planting that in me at a young age. And now, I feel like I was doing this even before the music came along, but now, I feel even more the sense of us — as artists, public figures, whatever you want to call us — we need to show that [helping people in need] is important to us. If there is a way to make a bad situation better, we need to jump on that. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I hope I continue to get a chance to do that.”
Davis pointed at Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson as a few of the country music legends that helped shape his own way of thinking.
“As a new artist, you look up to those role models, and not only do you want to copy what they did from a sense of songwriting and performing, but also their off-stage acts. That's why the giving mentality country is so rich.”
It has been a busy year for Davis. In February, he released Bluebird Days, his sophomore album following 2018’s Home State. The second single, “Next Thing You Know,” has been a staple of country radio (reaching No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100). The song earned him his second consecutive Song of the Year nomination at the CMA Awards, an honor he won in 2022 for “But Dirt,” his song with Luke Bryan.
Though “Next Thing You Know” could wind up taking home three CMA Awards — Song of the Year, Single of the Year, and Music Video of the Year — Davis is just honored to be a part of the ceremony. “Honored to be nominated, always,” he says. With this new generation of country stars helping make country popular again, he sees being “one of the finalists for any of those awards is such an honor.”
“I got to win [Song of the Year] last year, and it was truly the coolest moment that music's given me,” he says. While Davis is excited about possibly winning the award a second time, “to have a song I’ve written be noticed? That’s a win in itself.”
So, the question remains: will Davis take a “victory lap” — whether he wins at the CMAs or not — to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas to see Usher headline the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show in February?
“I’m hoping I saw a little bit of that [Halftime show] in Vegas,” says Davis. “That's what was so cool. I saw him one time before, when he came to Dallas, and then to get to see him again? The show is just as energetic. I mean, the guy is one of the best singers I've ever seen, and just the [Vegas] performance was unreal.”
If Davis can’t make it to the game and Usher in person, he’ll still tune in to catch one of his favorite performers doing what he does best. “[And] I’ll at least be able to be like, ‘Oh, yeah! I remember that from the residency,'” he says with a laugh. “Yeah, [he’s] just a crazy talent.”
The 2023 Country Music Association Awards will air live on November 8 at 7:00 pm EST on ABC and streaming live on Hulu. For more from Nashville, check out Us Weekly's VIP Guide to Music City.