Luke Combs took home the CMA Awards trophy for New Artist of the Year, a category he shared with Lauren Alaina, Chris Janson, Midland and Brett Young. Although Combs certainly had a banner year, touring both on his own and with Jason Aldean, as well as celebrating three chart-topping singles, including his recent "She Got the Best of Me," the 28-year-old never thought he'd actually walk away a winner.
"Everybody had been asking me all week, 'Have you written and acceptance speech?' And my answer was no,'" Combs shared with PopCulture and other media backstage at the CMA Awards. "I never want to believe that I'm gonna win anything, and I think tonight was no different. I really wanted to be able to go up there and speak from the heart. And it may have been goofy, but I'll tell you what, it's what I felt in that moment and that moment will stick with me forever. And I'm just absolutely, so incredibly humbled and grateful to be here tonight."
Combs, who said, "Thanks to everybody who believed in me, thanks to everybody in this room who inspired me ... God, I love country music, man," while accepting his award, was reminded of how far he has already come, not just by his first-ever CMA Award, but by the chance to watch Eric Church perform Church's current "Desperate Man" hit, since Combs admits he wouldn't even have a career without Church.
"That was a really cool full-circle moment for me," recalled Combs. "I went to a really small college in North Carolina. And my freshman year, a buddy of mine that lived on my hall came into my room and said, 'Hey. This guy is playing on campus tonight. He went to school here. His name is Eric Church.' And I had never thought about picking a guitar up. I had been singing my whole life. And I didn't give his music a chance that day, to be really honest with you. And then a couple weeks later I had had a few. And I said, 'You know what? I'm gonna give this guy's album a shot.'"
"I listened to it, front to back, and it really changed my outlook and changed a lot of things for me about country music," he continued. "I was just a fan for three years. And when I decided to pick the guitar up, I said, 'You know what? If this guy went to college here and can be on stage at the CMAs and win CMA Awards and get number one songs up, I don't see why I can't do it.' And he really inspired me to have a tunnel- vision-like approach to what I wanted to do. And I'm very lucky to have run into his music because I really don't think that I would be here without it."
Photo Credit: Getty images/Erika Goldring