Brett Eldredge Named New Artist of the Year at the CMA Awards

"Mean to Me" singer was the unexpected winner in a tough race

Brett Eldredge accepts the New Artist of the Year Award during the 48th annual CMA Awards. Credit: Rick Diamon/Getty

In a short but sweet acceptance speech, Brett Eldredge reminisced about being so excited for his first CMA Awards ceremony a few years ago that he arrived early enough to find himself nearly alone in the massive Bridgestone Arena, dreaming what it would be like to be on stage winning an award. The dream became reality when Eldredge was named CMA New Artist of the Year, joining an elite class of country performers who have won the trophy since it was first presented in 1981 (and was known as the Horizon Award until 2008). Past winners include CMA Awards co-hosts Brad Paisley (2000) and Carrie Underwood (2006).

"I feel so good, I feel strange," Eldredge told Rolling Stone Country in a backstage chat, his voice nearly trembling with excitement as he clutched his new trophy. "It's such a rush. I'm holding this crazy space rocket CMA award that looks amazing, and I've always thought this is the coolest looking thing. And now I'm holding one!

"It definitely inspires you to keep on climbing that ladder," continued Eldredge. "'New Artist' – that means I'm new, I'm a baby in this game, and I get to go do all sorts of crazy stuff. I'm just blown away. Now I'm seeing my family and trying not to cry."

Eldredge, who was born in tiny Paris, Illinois, released his debut single, "Raymond," in 2010. His breakthrough came in 2012 with "Don't Ya," the lead single from his Bring You Back album, released the following year. An opening act on Taylor Swift's Red Tour, Eldredge will next be featured on Little Big Town's Pain Killer trek, which kicks off on Saturday, November 8th in Youngstown, Ohio.

The last male solo artist to win New Artist of the Year was Hunter Hayes in 2012, while the first was Ricky Skaggs in 1982. Among the other men who have earned the honor are Darius Rucker (2009), Keith Urban (2001) and Garth Brooks (1990). The following year, Brooks would go on to win the night's big prize, Entertainer of the Year.