As an artist who has gone gold or platinum with every album you've released in 17 years, what would you say is the secret to longevity in the country music business?

I really don't know [laughs]! But if there's something that's been a constant through my career, it's being true to myself. If you just make the goal to sell records and get played on the radio, then you're chasing something. But if you just try really hard to be who you are as an artist, then those fans who found you at the beginning of your career -- they love you for the music that you make. And if you continue to be true to yourself and be a true artist, then those fans will stay with you. And maybe you'll gain some new fans along the way, too. But if you try to chase what you think is going to make you successful, that's when you get in trouble.

Who's a new artist today who you think has a shot at longevity?

The first name that popped into my head is Josh Turner. I just sang on his record for that reason. I'm kind of cynical -- there's not a whole lot of stuff I really like [laughs]. Most of what I like is older music. And I have liked him since I heard his very first single, 'Long Black Train.' He just has a classic country voice. He's the real deal. He seems to be making music that is who he really is. So I would not be surprised if he is having this conversation in 15 years.

How would you say you've evolved as an artist since your first single, 'He's in Love With the Boy,' was released back in 1991?

Well, my hair has gotten smaller [laughs]! When I listen to that first album, the great news is that I don't listen to it and go, "Ugh! I'm so embarrassed that I made that record." I'm really proud. Because even 'She's in Love With the Boy' is a great story song. It's not a song where I go, "Well, this is something I recorded when I was really young and didn't know any better." It stands the test of time. I think the biggest difference is my voice now and how it's matured. I like the sound of my voice right now better than ever. And I'm sure there's a point in life where it starts to go the other way [laughs]. But at this point, I like the maturity. I like that when I listen to the music I made at 26 years old, I can tell that I'm young and green. And when I hear my voice now, I hear the season in it. I also trust my voice more and more. When I made that first album, I wanted it to be perfect. I was so worried about every pitch being perfect, and you can sometimes lose a great performance that way. And my producer said to me, "You've gotta just sing! God gave you the gift, so don't overthink it. Trust it." And the more I've done that over the years, the better I think the songs are, because you get more realness. The song we talked about earlier, 'Sing You Back to Me,' is a prime example. It was the first take, and I was very emotional. I was getting really choked up, and I can hear it in the vocals. And normally, I would've gone in and fixed something like that, because it's not perfect. But I've learned that emotion is what makes the performance what it is.

Looking back at your career, what has been the highlight so far?

I couldn't say just one thing, but what pops into mind are becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1999, getting to sing at the Olympics in Georgia -- that's where I'm from, so it was huge for me ... and things that were never really on the list. I knew I wanted to be a singer. I knew I wanted to be on the radio. But things like getting to sing with Pavarotti, I never dreamed I would have that opportunity. So when it's all said and done, when I look back, what I'll reflect on the most are the people I've met and the people I've had a chance to sing with and the friends I've made along the way. It's been pretty cool to do what you truly love to do and get paid for it. A lot of people have to take jobs because they have to, and they give up whatever that dream was they had. So I feel lucky never having to give up my dream.

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