Luke Bryan Talks 'What Makes You Country' Album & How He's 'The Voice for the Common Man' on 'American Idol' Reboot

Eric Rryan Anderson
Luke Bryan

With 16 Country Airplay No. 1 hits, Luke Bryan doesn't really have anything to prove when it comes to his place in country music. When it comes to just how country he is, though, the 41-year-old had some critics along the way -- but that's not why his sixth LP is titled What Makes You Country.

"I don’t really ever enter into making albums to try to squash critics," Bryan tells Billboard. "I think I would be naive to think that I would get to this level of my career and not have naysayers. My success and approach to get here, I couldn’t have scripted it any better. And I’m really happy about everything I’ve done ... I feel like my fans that are fans of mine are fans of me for my music, the way I do live shows, and for how I live my personal life too. I’m proud of all of that."

Bryan chatted with Billboard before he played an intimate performance at New York City's Samsung 837 venue on the eve of his album release Thursday night, where he played a mix of new songs and some Luke Bryan classics like "That's My Kind of Night" and "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)." And considering the crowd reaction, his presumption about his fans was absolutely true -- particularly confirmed by a smitten fan who shamelessly shouted, "You're f---ing hot as shit!," to which he playfully responded, "You know, that really made me feel really good."

While he admits that What Makes You Country does lean a little more to throwback country than some of his other albums, he insists his main goal going into creating an album is to just be a better singer and writer and "work your butt off" recording them. He calls his most recent release a "typical" Luke Bryan album, as it's part full-on country and part super progressive. 

"I don’t like to do one linear album," he says. "I like to bring everybody to the party, and I think I catch a little flak for that. But production-wise I definitely try to not be a one-trick pony."

Each one of the 15 tracks made it on the album for a reason, but the one he says moves the needle most for him is the uplifting "Most People Are Good." "I look throughout the history of my career, and 'Drink a Beer' was a life-changing song for me and a lot of the people that heard it. I feel like 'Most People Are Good' delivers all of the same things that that caliber of a song like 'Drink a Beer,' and you’re always excited to see how your fans will interpret a song that you truly feel like could change your life. It’s a departure from 'Drink a Beer,' but it’s that same type of song that gets your heart. I feel like there’s several songs on there that can capture your heart in different ways."

Bryan will set out on a namesake tour in support of the album in February, with dates spanning from February to early April. In the middle of his trek, fans will also get to see Bryan star as one of the three new superstar judges on the revival of American Idol, which premieres March 11.

The "Light It Up" singer speaks fondly of his "super humble" panelmates, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie ("we all really share the same values and agreement with a lot of these contestants," he says), and he's excited to represent what makes him country -- both his genre and his small-town roots -- for the Idol fans who can relate.

"I think it’s kind of fun for me to be the voice for the common man, the good old boys out there," he says with a smile. "I’ve been around the block and I’ve been to the big cities, the small towns. I tour the big cities, and then I go do Farm Tour and tour those [cities]. I’ve got a pretty good overall read on culture and society ... I try to be a well-rounded music listener and certainly a music artist. But I think I can be the voice of your Nebraska farmer out there sittin’ at home watching Idol. There will be times too that some of the people that have stereotypes that may have a preconceived notion of what I may say, I may totally blow their mind because I may surprise you on some stuff. I think as the show goes on, my character on that show will develop even more."

Luke Bryan performed during Samsung’s Live at 837 concert series and joined a powerful roster of artists that have been a part of the series this year including Sam Hunt, French Montana, Noah Cyrus, Jason Derulo, All Time Low, Vic Mensa and more. Samsung will host its 14th and final Live at 837 of the year with a DJ set by Paul Oakenfold on Thursday, Dec. 14.