Since winning Nashville Star in 2006, Chris Young has been on a hot streak: three smash albums, high-profile tours and two American Country Awards.
Its all a far cry from his start at a certain Tex-Mex restaurant chain, competing with sizzling fajitas for the crowds attention.
I had a standing gig at an El Chico on the back patio, Young said. I brought my own PA and played four hours for tips.
The Tennessee native took his show on the road, too, to similar fanfare.
The rule used to be that if there were more people in the crowd than onstage, you had to play, Young said. We dont have those sort of problems anymore. Thats what laid the groundwork for all of this. I wouldnt be who I am if I hadnt done those sorts of things.
The 26-year-old country crooner is right in the thick of a run with Miranda Lambert, and hes taking notes. After increasingly successful albums and singles, he hopes to be taking stadiums by storm as the headliner.
Watching them manage their stage and own the crowd I get ideas of what really works, he said. Hopefully, not too far down the road, well be on our own tour.
His newest album, 2011s Neon, might have sped up the time getting to that point. Young never felt much stress in writing the follow-up to 2009s hit disc, The Man I Want to Be.
There wasnt any pressure. There wasnt anything hanging over our heads, he said. The only thing was the sentiment of wanting to make this better than the last record.
He may have done just that.
Neon was met with critical acclaim and his strongest sales yet. Both singles, Tomorrow and You, topped Billboards country chart, and residencies at On the Border dont appear to be near.
I love everything about this record. Here already, weve had two No. 1s, but Im even more proud and excited to see people respond to songs that arent even one of those singles, Young said. When you see them singing along with those songs at a show, nothing beats that.
Photo by Rande St. Nicholas