Blake Shelton is ambling toward a dressing room backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, nodding and offering a good-natured grin to a group of women clustered in a doorway watching him pass by.
One blonde onlooker – the mother of another act, it turns out – giggles and swoons as he walks past, grabbing the door frame to steady herself. A few feet down the crowded hall, a pair of young women – relatives of another artist on the evening’s bill – approach, hoping for a hug and a picture. Blake supplies both, calling out jovially, “Can you crop out my third chin?”
Before the photo’s even snapped, an autograph-seeking circle forms around him.
Such is the stop-them-in-their-tracks star power the 36-year-old singer now wields, even in the hallways of the Opry, where country legends are commonplace.
With a wicked sense of humor, an equally white-hot wife in Miranda Lambert and a career that boasts 13 No. 1s, a mega-hit TV show and three nods at this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards, the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year has risen to mainstream celebrity status as he releases his 10th studio album, Based on a True Story … . But as an Okie whose idea of a good time is spending the morning clearing brush from his Tishomingo farm and the afternoon tending to a burn pile (vodka and Sprite Zero in hand), Shelton still has a hard time believing his own hype.
“I spent so many years wishing for these opportunities, you’ll never see me running out of a restaurant with my sunglasses and a hoodie on ’cause I don’t want to be noticed,” he says. “I just don’t take myself that seriously.”
It’s a sentiment that runs in the family. Take a recent night out in L.A. after taping The Voice when Lambert, Shelton and Shelton’s mom went to dinner with fellow Voice coach Christina Aguilera and her boyfriend.
“I wish I could have videoed that night – my mom, who never leaves Tishomingo, and Christina Aguilera!” Shelton says. As they left the restaurant, paparazzi began snapping pictures, setting off a flare of flashes.
“We stepped out and couldn’t even see. My mom loved it. She’s waving, saying, ‘I’m the mom!’ It’s like, how the hell did any of us get here? Me, much less my mom!”
To read the rest of this story and much more about Blake – including why he won’t hook up in music videos – and all your favorite country stars, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE Country, on newsstands now