Combs’ career so far has been historic: He’s got an unprecedented 14-single streak of No. 1 hits at country radio, he just ramped up his tour plans to include stadium shows in 2022 and — still in his early 30s — he won Entertainer of the Year at the 2021 CMA Awards.
At this year’s ceremony, Combs was nominated again, and of course he was nervous: He was going up against a list of the some of the most deserving artists in the genre, with Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Morgan Wallen and Chris Stapleton all in the mix.
“I remember last year when I won, a bunch of people reached out to me,” Combs told media outlets backstage at Bridgestone Arena. “They said, ‘Hey man, just enjoy tonight. It may never happen again and it’s the pinnacle of success you can have in this business.'”
At that ceremony, and during the year that followed, Combs openheartedly embraced his Entertainer of the Year status: He crested to new personal bests as a performer, played bigger venues and gave back to fans. But no matter how much he soaked up his success in the moment, Combs couldn’t help but worry about parting ways with his Entertainer title as the 2022 CMA Awards neared.
“I’m not gonna lie to you. I was so nervous about tonight,” the singer continues. “I was doing some interviews on Monday, and people were asking me about it — I remember having this somber thought of, ‘This could be the last two days that I’m Entertainer of the Year, ever. I may never win this again.'”
After Wednesday night’s awards show, Combs has at least another year until he had to worry about that happening, since he picked up the Entertainer trophy for the second time, as well as an award for Album of the Year for his Growin’ Up project.
Still, the whole experience leading up to the CMAs was a good reminder to stay focused on the moment. “My wife is here. Our son is at home. My parents are still around. [I’m focused on] just being thankful for the things that I have right now, enjoying the moment that I’m in, and not looking forward or dwelling on things in the past,” he says. “I get to live my dream every day with the people I love living it with me. I try to be as thankful for that every day as I can.”
And even on the hard days, Combs says, he’s always surrounded by reminders of the real reason he does what he does: The connection he has with his fans.
“I had a show a few weeks back and went out there, and everyone has tough days at work,” he recounts. “I had a rough night a few weeks ago. I remember coming off stage and going in the green room for half an hour, sitting there by myself, taking stock of why I do what I do.
“… I remember thinking, ‘Okay, you’ve won Entertainer, you’ve done this, you’ve done that, you’ve checked so many boxes — what is the thing that keeps you coming back? And then there was this little girl in the audience [with a sign that read] ‘Will you sing ‘Even Though I’m Leaving’ for my daddy in heaven?'” Combs continues. “I remember reading that sign, and being a dad now myself, just going, ‘This is why I step out here.’ It’s not for money. It’s not for awards. It’s for people who spend their hard-earned money to come out and spend maybe the only Saturday night they go out for the whole year to come see me.”
After all, if there’s no one there to entertain, it doesn’t matter whether or not Combs is the Entertainer of the Year.
“If nobody shows up, then the show doesn’t matter,” he says. “I try to be as thankful for that every day as I can.”