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ACM Awards: Jason Aldean shares Artist of the Decade surprise, career highlights

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  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 1 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 2 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 3 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 4 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 5 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 6 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 7 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 8 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 9 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 10 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 11 of 12
  • Jason Aldean rehearses for his performance at the 54TH Academy of Country Music Awards Friday, April 5, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. 12 of 12

Jason Aldean has sold more than 10 million concert tickets, 18 million albums, racked up 4 billion digital streams and is the RIAA’s top digital male country artist of all time. He’s charted 22 No. 1 songs and won 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, including three consecutive trophies for Entertainer of the Year.

However, he still wasn’t expecting his latest accolade – The ACM Dick Clark Artist of the Decade. When Aldean is bestowed with the honor Sunday during the 54th ACM Awards, he’ll be in rarefied air – only George Strait (2008), Garth Brooks (1998), Alabama (1988), Loretta Lynn (1979) and Marty Robbins (1969) have won the award. 

“I’m kind of a little surprised,” Aldean admitted. “I guess more so because this isn’t something they give out every year, so it wasn’t even on my radar. I look at all the artists out there, and I feel like a lot of them have had a pretty great decade so to be the one that everyone voted for, that is pretty special. I’m proud, excited and pretty blown away, a lot of different things.”

Aldean will perform with Florida Georgia Line as well as sing a medley of his hits during the 54th ACM Awards, which will air live from MGM Grand’s Garden Arena 7 p.m. Sunday on CBS. He’s the first artist to receive the ACM Dick Clark Artist of the Decade Award since it was posthumously named after the awards show’s former host and longtime producer Dick Clark.

“For me, the Artist of the Decade Award is so special because as the name says … it really takes a snapshot of who has been the biggest artist in the past 10 years,” Dick Clark’s son and current ACM Awards producer RAC Clark said. “Changing the name embraces my father’s participation in the ACM Awards. He was there for decades to help nurture it and take it along from being a late-night television show and being the host of it to getting it on NBC and then CBS. It just started as a little awards ceremony in the middle of Hollywood.”

A decade of Jason Aldean

Aldean’s decade of radio domination started in 2009 with the release of his “Wide Open” album. While the Georgia native had had previous hits including “Amarillo Sky,” “Laughed Until We Cried” and “Johnny Cash,” “Wide Open” was home to “Big Green Tractor,” which is still Aldean’s longest-running No. 1 hit. The song’s success came as a surprise to the singer and he said he knew it was next level when he started hearing people use the suggestive track as their ring tone. His fast-talking smash “She’s Country” was from the same album and pushed the envelope in a different direction, giving fans the biggest nod at what was coming next – “My Kinda Party.”

“That was the start of the decade for me and then with that next album, everything went nuts,” he said, referencing “My Kinda Party,” which is also home to “Dirt Road Anthem.”  “At that point, I think it was a hang-on-for-the-ride sort of deal. I just think back to going from being an opening act for people on the road to selling out stadiums. I wanted to sell out a club, you know what I mean? A stadium was really reaching.”

But he did sell out stadiums. Aldean packed UGA’s Sanford Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, ATT Stadium and Gillette Stadium among others.

He’s also quick to point out – and take blame – for the fact that his career path hasn’t been smooth. Choices he made in his personal life sometimes flung his name into headlines he’d rather forget. And when he was on stage during the Las Vegas shooting in 2017 that left 58 people dead, his life changed again. Aldean will never forget what happened that night, but he forged ahead to play shows and make new music for country fans.

“When things hit like that, it’s life-altering,” he said. “As the artist, we’re just trying to navigate the road. A lot of ways I feel like I’ve grown up in this business and people have seen it first-hand.”

Over the course of his career, Aldean said he’s learned that making compelling music trumps everything. Nowadays, every mistake ends up on social media until someone else makes a bigger faux pas, he explained. But once his album is out, he said the unimportant stuff falls away.

“That was always my goal, to stay focused on what I do,” Aldean said. “I can’t change what I can’t change, but I can stay focused on making my records.”

He’s proud of his work – admittedly more so of some songs than others. Aldean loved “Tattoos on This Town” and “My Kinda Party,” but said his rap-infused “Dirt Road Anthem” initially made him nervous.

More: ACM Awards: Who will (and who should) win

More: Brandi Carlile abandoned country music out of fear. Now in its embrace, ‘no one has hurt me yet.’

“I remember sitting in the studio with (producer Michael Knox) going, ‘Man, if we don’t do this just right … it could be huge, or it could be a disaster,” Aldean said. “It was never a matter of, ‘Were we going to cut it?’ But, it was, ‘How do we make this work?’”

With more than 4 million copies sold since 2010, “Dirt Road Anthem” is certified quadruple platinum.

“My Kinda Party” and “Night Train,” Aldean said represent the best albums he can make. He feels the same way about 99 percent of his recent “Rearview Town” and he said the album on which he’s currently working is shaping up to be just as strong.

“I don’t want to just have a few songs that are going to be a single and everything else is just alright,” he said. “I never know what the singles or going to be so if I’m going to cut 15 songs, I want 15 songs that I’m like, ‘Any of these could be singles.’”

The recording process takes longer, he said, but it’s worth it.

“It’s like everything we learned in the first part of my career we’re putting to use now,” Aldean explained. “We dialed everything that we do in more so than we have before.”

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  • The Academy of Country Music Awards kicked off its1 of 38
  • Jason Aldean returned to Vegas for the awards ceremony,2 of 38
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