Five-time Grammy winner Carrie Underwood seems to be passing the proverbial "Best New Artist" torch to a new generation. With newcomer Hunter Hayes, whose "Wanted" became his first No. 1 hit, garnering three Grammy nods, Underwood has revealed that she threw him her vote in the all-genre new artist category. Hayes also picked up a nomination in the "Best Country Solo Performance" and "Best Country Album," for his critically acclaimed self-titled debut album, released late 2011.
"He's not just a singer, he's not just a cutie-pie, which he is," Underwood told the Associated Press. "He's adorable, but it's not just that. He's really talented. He's a really great vocalist and he plays everything on his album, which I think is something he doesn't get enough credit for. He's a great guy, too, and he's a hard worker. I've seen all the stuff he's running and out and doing all over the place and he wants it bad."
On his record, Hayes found it important to explore and push the boundaries of his evolving sound, including into the more pop-leaning edge of his contemporaries, such as Underwood, Taylor Swift, and Lady Antebellum. While his male counterparts (Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Eric Church) are dabbling in more rock-infused songs, he stands his ground on carving out a specific niche for himself, apart from the typical template. "In the name of experimenting and being adventurous and trying new things, I think it's important for me to keep doing that and I think it's important to challenge myself in those ways," Hayes said.
Prior to his major label record release, the 21-year-old musician self released many of his projects, which helped him cultivate his artistry and technique. Not only is he inspired by the traditional sounds of the genre in his own music, but he seeks out other modern bands for guidance. He notes Train, John Mayer, Mutemath and Coldplay being significant influences on his trajectory.
"This year I got into two or three different bands because their records, which were not on country radio stations, had elements of the things I love," Hayes explained. "They had bluegrass instruments. They had really cool organic grooves that I love and was so excited to hear. ... It's important for me to sort of merge all these sounds into one to help me create mine, whatever that is."