Hunter Hayes’ homecoming dream comes true

Photo provided by Warner Music Nashville -- Hunter Hayes
Photo provided by Warner Music Nashville -- Hunter Hayes

Good news and good things keep coming Hunter Hayes’ way.

The 21-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist from Breaux Bridge most recently received Billboard Music Awards nominations for top country song and top country artist.

The Billboard nominations follow his three Grammy nominations and six Academy of Country Music Awards nominations.

“It’s been crazy,” Hayes said from the back of his tour bus April 14. “You have your big moments. Every year you have certain things that you’re excited about. But I feel like I can never ask for anything more than what I’ve experienced this year. So many dreams have come true.”

Hayes experienced especially big moments at the ACM Awards, which took place April 7 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. He performed his latest single, “I Want Crazy,” during the show and television broadcast and also joined Stevie Wonder for a performance of the classic rhythm-and-blues star’s “Sir Duke.”

“I’ve always wanted to work with Stevie,” Hayes said in a characteristic stream of enthusiasm. “He’s a hero of mine. I’ve said that to pretty much everyone I know. But now, having worked with him, I have even more respect for him.”

Hayes found Wonder to be a caring, generous artist.

“Stevie is one of the most incredibly kind human beings I’ve ever met in my life,” he said. “I say that he’s an ambassador for good. He has a message of love. If I can follow that example some day, I’ll be doing just fine.”

Performing his new song at the ACM Awards was another highlight for Hayes.

“It was stunning that they let me premiere a new single on an awards show,” he said. “They have a lot of faith, I guess, in me and I thank them so much.”

Earlier this week, Hayes and Wonder reunited on TV’s Dancing With The Stars. In a show honoring Wonder, the keyboard-playing rhythm-and-blues legend and guitar-playing young country star performed a medley of Wonder songs.

Following the release of Hayes’ debut single for Atlantic Records, “Storm Warning,” he toured with Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts. After his self-titled album debut appeared in October 2011, he made countless TV appearances, got a No. 1 song with “Wanted,” won the Teen Choice Award for the Male Country Artist of the Year and was picked to tour with country megastar Carrie Underwood.

“It’s been great,” he said of the Underwood. “What’s better than getting to open for a superstar in front of an arena full of awesome fans every night? Everybody’s jazzed up about the show. The coolest thing is there’s so much energy in the room. We’re coming off stage with more excitement almost than when we went on.”

The Underwood tour will also allow another dream to come true for Acadiana native Hayes — playing for a sold-out crowd at the Cajundome.

“It’s a homecoming and one of my lifetime achievement milestones there,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to play that room.”

Actually, Hayes previously played for a convention at the Cajundome, but only in a scale-downed configuration.

“I’m not counting it because it wasn’t the full room,” he said. “They set up a little stage and we played for a cool crowd, but it was a small set up. I’ve never been on the stage in the Cajundome looking out at a sold-out audience. That’s what I’m ready for.”

His fans also have a new album from Hayes to look forward to. Encore, to be released June 18, features new material, remakes of songs from the Hunter Hayes album and guest stars Jason Mraz and Ashley Monroe. The album is Hayes’ chance to revisit his Atlantic debut and continue its story.

“I believe records have to be chapters,” he explained. “They’re part of the story of your life as an artist. And you have to pay attention to every detail and tell the story as honestly and openly as you can.”