'American Idol' Judge Luke Bryan Shares What He Loves About Mentoring Young Talent and How He Tries to Connect With All Fans

The country music superstar is about to head out on a Farm Tour: "A lot of times, I’ll put more rural songs in that set just to make it connect even more with the fans.”

Luke Bryan is a man with a very busy schedule. He’s judged American Idol each spring for the past five years, he has his Raised Up Right tour, he has dates in Las Vegas, he is always releasing new music, and now he’s heading out on a Farm Tour.

This particular Farm Tour is sponsored by the National Pork Board, which was an organization Luke hadn’t been familiar with, but it was one he decided was the perfect fit for him because, as a result of his upbringing on a Georgia farm, Luke understands the hard work that goes into farming.

“The beauty of the Farm Tour is we get some interesting partners,” Luke told Parade.com in this exclusive interview. “I’m really happy to be partnered with them and showcasing their message, which is pig farming is not what you may think it is, and anybody with preconceived notions of what a pig farm looks like it’s very, very different than what you may expect when you look at how clean they are and how ethically run they are. I’m glad to be able to spread this word to anybody that may think otherwise.”

In addition to the fact that Luke grew up on a farm, his music also seems to be a natural for a Farm Tour, including his new song Country On, which means he is able to change up his set list to reflect his audience.

“I’ve got a song called Here’s to the Farmer, so we’ve used the hashtag here’s to the farmer campaign quite a bit,” he explained. “A lot of times, I’ll put more rural songs in that set just to make it connect even more with the fans. It’s all about creating a vibe and making sure all the fans really connect in the moment.”

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Touring has also become a family affair for Luke, who with wife Caroline Boyer has sons Thomas, 14, and Tatum, 12, who often join him on the road.

“Touring, for me, is a lot more relaxed,” Luke said. “I’ve learned every aspect about it and feel really comfortable up there. I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had touring because I can be relaxed and chilled out and just connect with the fans and make sure they have a great time."

But in Spring 2023 touring will go on pause, or at least slowed down, while Luke returns for the sixth season of American Idol on ABC, joining once again with Lionel Richie and Katy Perry at the judges' desk in the search for the next singing sensation. Idol is currently holding producers auditions for new talent, and sometimes Luke contributes to that.

“Megan [Michaels Wolflick], our showrunner, she texts the group several times, ‘Get ready, we’ve got great talent coming,’” he said. “A lot of times I’ll be on TikTok or Instagram and I’ll see a kid singing and performing and I’ll send her a link. So, we all work as a big, happy family to put on the best show. That’s what we’re always working towards.”

During our conversation with Luke, we also talked about why he loves mentoring new talent, and his upcoming return as the host of this year's Country Music Association Awards (CMAs).

You have a new song out, but you’re not one of the writers on it. With your busy schedule, how do you find time to make new music?

Well, with me, I write as many songs as I can. When I get the right idea, I try to write a great song. But then I love to lean on the songwriting community of Nashville to send me songs. It’s all about the right song, whether I write it or whether somebody sends it to me or sends it from my publishing company, it’s just about trying to put out a song that I really believe in. Making it connect with fans is my goal for my artistry for the rest of my life. Me writing a bad song and putting one of the bad songs I’ve written on an album is not anything I want to do. I want to always have the best music on the albums and connect with the fans.

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What do you like about mentoring new talent? Because it’s not just something you do on American Idol, it’s something you’ve done in real life, as well. Cole Swindell is an example of someone you encouraged.

My thing is I remember the joy of when my career really started to take off, I remember that feeling and how special that feeling is and how much fun it is. So, anytime I can help someone have that feeling and feel that rise to stardom, I really, really enjoy that role. Cole is certainly on a rocket ship right now with a real hot song. Nobody’s happier for Cole than me.

Chayce Beckham is another example.

Chayce Beckham is working with my manager. Chayce and I have become pretty tight. Down the road I’m sure we’ll try to get on some shows together. But Chayce is a great artist and certainly this year's winner Noah [Thompson], any of those guys that go through the gauntlet of Idol and getting into country music, I have nothing but respect for and wish nothing but the best for them.

Noah and HunterGirl are going to be on a tour together. How proud are you of the talent that you’ve picked to date? Even though America votes on the final results, you and Lionel and Katy, you select the people that they have to pick from.

I think that it’s really fun to go through the talent and try to help them and watch them grow. When you have a kid that comes in that’s pretty green and pretty shy and doesn’t know anything, and we get them from point A to B and then they can go make their career whatever they want it … just because you win doesn’t mean your ticket’s punched. You’ve still got to go out there and earn it. It’s certainly very, very rewarding being behind that judging table and helping them out. Telling them when they’re not ready is tough, but they need to hear that. Telling them when they are ready is pretty special.

Also, coming up, you’re going to be hosting the CMAs again, the second year in a row. But this time you’re going to have a co-host, Peyton Manning. Are you buddies?

Yeah, we’re pretty good buddies. We’ve known each other for probably over 10 years now and done some charitable stuff together. We’ve done some golf trips together. I know Peyton well enough to know that he’s got a deep love and appreciation for country music, and he’s just been a champion of it for years. The main thing is just being up there on stage with him is going to be a blast because he likes to cut up and not take himself too seriously. I think it’s going to be a great night of music. Glad to have him as a co-host.

Does it make it easier to have a co-host? Do you feel like the duties are shared?

Yeah, it’ll take a little pressure off. All the pressure was on me last year, and I proved I could do it by myself. But I think it adds more dynamics to have a co-host up there. It’s going to be fun.

You’re a two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year Award winner. That’s a top honor. Why would that award stand out over some other ones possibly?

Being the Entertainer of the Year encompasses so many levels and subcategories. To be the entertainer of the year at the end of the year means that you went out and you just worked your butt off, you connected with the fans, and you hit all aspects of your career out of the park. So, when you win one, it’s pretty validating. It’s the highest honor that I’ve ever had. When I look back and say I actually have a CMA Entertainer of the Year award, it’s something I can put on my bucket list and hold my head high forever about and really say my prayers that I’ve got a couple of them things.

What is your favorite thing about watching the CMA show? Is it the performances? Is it seeing old friends? Will it be introducing Peyton to country music people?

I think when you look at the CMAs, it’s about certain artists that really propel their career to a new level on that night. When you look at how Chris Stapleton showcased himself to the world and became Chris Stapleton on the CMAs. My first performance of “Country Girl Shake It For Me” took my career to another level. So, when you’re on the stage there and you do a dynamic performance, you can really propel your career to a new level. That’s what’s special about hosting, watching those moments happen.

That’s really interesting that you say that because you have to have a certain level of a career to get on that stage to make those moments happen.

Yeah, getting on that stage is a huge accomplishment. When you’re able to take that moment and take the spotlight and turn it into even something more special is what it’s all about.

There are so many special moments for country music artists, like getting invited to join the Grand Ole Opry or getting a Grammy. Do you think that country music has come more to the forefront than it has in the past?

I think country music has obviously proven itself as a global form of music and certainly a national form of music. I think as people can download music on their phone and they can create their own playlists, if you’re a country music artist that gets put in everybody’s playlist that listens to all forms of music, that’s what the goal is. To be your own artist and to sell your own artistry, that brings you success because you’re unique to yourself. I think the CMAs is about showcasing those unique artists.

Is popcorn really your favorite snack? You did this Luke Bryan’s Boldly Grown Popcorn earlier this summer, which sold out.

Well, yeah, I’ve always said my guilty pleasure is popcorn and movie popcorn. We partnered with Fendt tractors, and we actually did it and it sold out so quick. I’m sure it’ll potentially be back by popular demand, but there were a lot of fans very mad that they couldn’t get my popcorn.

Again, it was for farmers. So, you seem to have a theme going there.

Right, we were able to donate $25,000 to the Future Farmers of America.

Following are the dates for Luke’s Farm Tour 2022:

9/15 Monroeville, IN Highland Farms

9/16 Mechanicsburg, OH SpringFork Farms

9/17 Fowlerville, MI Kubiak Family Farms

9/22 Murdock, NE Stock Hay & Grain Farm

9/23 Boone, IA Ziel Farm

9/24 Eyota, MN Gar-Lin Dairy

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