On the morning of Sept. 3, Thomas Rhett was in Toronto. It was there that he received some news that he will never forget: his first CMA nomination, for New Artist of the Year.
"I didn't have any cell phone service or WiFi, so I used some of my roaming minutes to call my manager," he recalled to Billboard. "She was watching the nominees being announced on Good Morning America, and she put the phone up to the TV while Darius Rucker announced who it was going to be. Since they did it in alphabetical order, my name was towards the end. I thought, 'I didn't get it,' then he called my name. It was one of the coolest moments and feelings I've ever experienced."
Rhett said being among the five finalists in one of the toughest categories of next month's ceremony definitely is a feeling he cherishes. "When ballots go out for any awards show, I didn't even care if I was on the show. I just wanted to be nominated. Being in that category with four of your really good buddies is one of the craziest things in the world -- all of us up for the same award. The coolest part about it is that we're all friends, and whoever does win the award will be happy for the other. It is such a dream come true to be nominated for such a big award."
Rhett knows it's not going to be an easy category to predict, with his fellow nominees being Brandy Clark, Brett Eldredge, Kip Moore and Cole Swindell. "If you look at either one of our track records -- Brandy has dominated the songwriting world, and she's such an amazing artist, then you look at Kip Moore, who had three No. 1s in a row out of the gate and is playing his own headlining dates. Then you have me, Cole and Brett, who I feel are exactly neck-and-neck with two No. 1s in a row, and our singles going platinum, and that kind of stuff. It's one of those things that if you are a viewer of the show, you could think, 'I could see either one of them winning.' We've all had an amazing past couple of years and have worked so hard to get to this point. I feel like the whole race is extremely neck-and-neck, and it's more fun that way. I'm just pumped to be a part of the friendly competition of the category, and to be able to sit there with my buddies and cheer them on."
Rhett is also stoked about last week's announcement that he would serve as an opening act on the 2015 Florida Georgia Line Anything Goes Tour. He says it's something the two acts have discussed for quite some time. "We talked about it a couple of years ago, back when I put out 'It Goes Like This,' and I remember Brian [Kelley] saying, 'We're going to tour together at some point,' and they stuck to their word, and everything fell into place like it should. The biggest thing for us is that we've been on big tours before, but we've never been in the middle slot on a tour as big as this. We've done about a million amphitheater shows at 7'o clock, where people are still milling in and buying their beer. For us to play at dark, and do a full hour set right before one of the biggest acts in country music, that's one of the biggest milestones for us. We're such good friends with them, and you couldn't ask to tour with anyone cooler than they are. I think it will be a really fun show for the fans. I think that the package they are putting together is going to be a huge party, so we're very excited."
One song that his fans have gotten excited about is his latest single, "Make Me Wanna," currently No. 37 and climbing on the Hot Country Songs chart. Rhett said he has also heard from some of his fellow artists about the song -- including one of his biggest influences. "Even though the last two songs both went No. 1, I've gotten more text messages and phone calls from fellow artists telling me that they love that song more than any other we've put out. Maybe it's because of how different the production is, but Dierks Bentley texted me the other day and said 'Make Me Wanna' is my jam. It's the coolest production I have heard in a long time.' To get those kinds of texts from your idols that you grew up listening to is a very cool thing, and it makes you feel secure and confident about the decision that you made to put the song out."