Originally published in the May 5, 2014 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Justin Moore had been flying to and from Las Vegas for the Academy of Country Music Awards for six years, walking the red carpet with his fellow stars and enjoying the show as a spectator. But for the show’s 49th edition on April 6, Justin had a new bounce in his step: He was attending for the first time to claim what he felt was rightfully his as a New Artist of the Year nominee.
Since Justin first began releasing music, he has topped the charts with hits like “Til My Last Day,” “Small Town U.S.A.” and “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” as well as packing arenas night after night on his recent headlining tour. Yet, he had no major awards to his credit.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, and I’ve had a great run, but for whatever reason, the awards thing has always eluded us,” Justin, 30, tells NASH. “I kind of came to the realization that maybe this isn’t going to happen. So when I found out I made the Top 3 of the nominees for the New Artist category, it kind of hit me: I don’t want to lose this thing because I may not get this opportunity again. I’ve gone six years without it. I would sure be disappointed to lose.
“Anybody who’s nominated wants to win,” he continues, adding that fellow nominees Brett Eldredge and Kip Moore were likely in the same boat. “We’re all competitive guys.”
Leading up to that day, Justin admits, he was an “emotional wreck.” As he settled into his flight to Sin City, he started to grasp the magnitude of this particular trip as he sipped on his Bailey’s Irish Cream and coffee. “I thought, man, I’ve been taking the same flight for the last six years, and thought about how different this time was,” he reflects. “This is all I’ve ever wanted for six years, every year at this time.”
Away from the spotlight, Justin is generally calm, cool and collected. He’s an easygoing guy who doesn’t often get worked up, but that definitely was not the case on awards night, he says. “I was pacing around my hotel room, calling and texting people,” he recalls, laughing. “I was just a wreck.”
When Justin’s name was read as New Artist of the Year in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the diminutive singer quickly wisecracked, “I was beginning to think there might be a height requirement for this award.” But he turned very emotional as he wrapped up, clutching his trophy in his hands and tearing up as he thanked his family.
“I got to thinking about the fact that, 12 years ago, my mom and dad both got a second job to help me move to NASHville,” he says softly. “I thought about my management team, who have been with me from day one. I thought about my wife and kids, who go without dad at home so often—not to mention the fans, who have wanted this just as bad as me. I got pretty emotional once I got up there. It was an awesome moment. It was just unbelievable.”
After the show, Justin hit a few parties to enjoy the moment, but admits he still has some celebrating left to do. “Going out there, my wife and I were talking that I could be a little hard to handle that night if I were to win,” he says, grinning. “I went to my label afterparty and—this is going to be shocking—I had four bottles of water there, and then I went to some other party where all my band and crew and everybody was. I think I had one vodka drink and one shot, and then I looked at my wife, and said, ‘I’m dead!’ I was just so emotionally exhausted that I hit a wall. We were in bed about midnight! That kind of shows you how much of a wreck I was the whole day leading up to it.
“But I’ll tell you what,” he adds, “When everybody was waking up the next day, I felt pretty good! I don’t smoke, but I had a cigar in my hand that night, and I thought, ‘I should smoke this, probably.’ Then I told myself, ‘No, because then your breath will taste like crap in the morning.’ Then I thought, ‘Well maybe I should take a few shots,’ and then I decided against that because ‘No, you’ll feel like crap in the morning.’ I kept talking myself out of letting go.” But Justin did make time to post a video on Facebook, thanking his fans and colorfully stating: “It’s about @#$% time!”
With his first big win under his belt, Justin hopes that other award shows will take notice of his success and open their arms in the future. “I feel like getting an award has validated the journey up to this point,” he says. “But I am hopeful that it may open the door for more opportunities like this. Who knows? We’ll see, but I sure hope so!”
Vegas or not, we’d bet on it.