Long before Brett Eldredge was collecting No. 1 hit songs and being honored with a plaque for peeing on the wall of his record label’s building back in college, the “Somethin’ I’m Good At” singer was hitting the pavement in Las Vegas, playing for whomever would listen.
“Before I signed my first record deal, I was [in] a house band in Vegas,” the singer, 31, tells PEOPLE of his time in Sin City in 2010. “I was at the Mandalay Bay in the lobby. It was me and my bass player — who’s still in my band to this day — and I was just singing covers and random stuff. I was writing songs and I wanted to get experience playing with a band in a setting like that.”
He explains Vegas can teach you a lot about performing for a crowd.
“No one knows you at all and you really have to pull people away. You’re trying to get some lady that’s playing the penny slots over to you and sing her ‘Walking in Memphis’ until she starts crying or wants to dance,” he says. “It was a month straight and every night I was living in a casino. It was a very interesting experience — I had to try to figure out how to live a regular day in Las Vegas and not go out and be crazy!”
It’s fitting that Eldredge’s CMT Instant Jam — which was filmed at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan around the ACM Awards in late March and airs Friday — would take place in Vegas. “It’s no secret that I love the Rat Pack era, and this is where it was all born — there’s just something special about this place.”
A far cry from his days as a no-name house band at the Mandalay Bay, the show is a real full circle moment for the musician. “If you told me [back in 2010] that people would be waiting out in a line to get tickets to a show, period, that would be crazy to think about. I’ve been very excited about playing this.”
And once it’s over, will the singer be hitting the tables? “Blackjack all day long,” Eldredge tells PEOPLE with a laugh. “I’m itching to play right now!”
Check out exclusive behind the scenes photos from Eldredge’s CMT Instant Jam day above, and watch the special, airing Friday at 10 p.m. EST on CMT.