Laura Roberts/Invision/AP
Nancy Kruh
December 02, 2015 04:30 PM

Keith Urban is such a fixture in the upper reaches of country music that it’s easy to forget how unlikely his stardom is – even if you’re Keith Urban.

But Tuesday night, the platinum-selling artist was reminded of his improbable career as he took a first look at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s new exhibit in his honor.

“It’s a funny thing how natural my being here [in Nashville] seemed to me, and in hindsight, how crazy it must have seemed to everybody in town at the time,” Urban, 48, said after surveying what he called his “stuff.”

He arrived, in 1989, “a foreigner with a strange accent,” as one exhibit placard describes him. (“It’s accurate,” Urban affirmed.) The collection of artifacts sketches in the rest of the story: how an Australian kid with a dream spent an entire decade doggedly trying to break into a distinctly American-made genre.

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Urban lingered over his first costumes (handmade by his father, who gave him his love for country music), and he was delighted by a childhood postcard to his family that promised, “I’m practicing everyday. And trying hard.” The dozen guitars in the exhibit – symbols of his country-rock musicianship – were evidence that practice pays off.

Nancy Kruh

Though the exhibit chiefly celebrates Urban’s glory years, beginning in the early 2000s, he marveled at how much space depicts his years of struggle. “It took so long to get going,” he said. “It’s remarkable that people kept believing in me, and I was able to keep staying and persevering.”

In remarks during a reception, Urban spent more than 20 minutes thanking those people, but none received more appreciation than his Oscar-winning wife, Nicole Kidman, who stood and listened at the back of the Hall of Fame Rotunda.

When he met her in 2005, Urban confessed, “I didn’t know anything about love. I didn’t know anything about marriage. I didn’t know anything about self-sacrifice. I didn’t know anything about taking care of a woman. I mean, nothing, nothing. I took hostages. I didn’t have relationships. I took hostages.”

Long open about his bouts with substance abuse, Urban candidly described how Kidman arranged a turning-point intervention in 2006 that resulted in a three-month stay at the Betty Ford Center.

“In so many ways,” he said, “it was the most powerful act of love – of reaching into the fire and pulling me out because she believed in me and she saw something in me in such a way that she risked everything – everything – to trust me.”

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Kidman brushed away tears as Urban finished his tribute by reveling in their “two native Nashvillian daughters,” Sunday Rose, 7, and Faith Margaret, who turns 5 at the end of the month. The girls will eventually visit the exhibit, Urban promised, and he is curious how they’ll react. “It will be unusual, I think, seeing old stuff of your dad’s behind glass in a museum,” he said.

Nicole Kidman, Steven Tyler and Keith Urban
Laura Roberts/Invision/AP

The exhibit’s title, “Keith Urban So Far … ,” evokes the past and present, but Urban is clearly thinking ahead as he’s working to complete his next album, Ripcord, expected for early 2016 release. He said he’s now trying to winnow the list, “figuring out which songs constitute the album.” It currently doesn’t include any duets – his last album was notable for Miranda Lambert and Eric Church match-ups – but, he said, “I’d like to.”

Urban said he’s also looking forward to a Nashville Christmas. “We’re bringing all the family over, Nic’s mom, her sister and brother-in-law and six kids,” he said. “Nic’s fantastic about making sure there’s a beautiful tree, and the house just looks great – looks, smells and feels very Christmasy.”

“Keith Urban So Far … ” opened Nov. 20 and will run through May 2016.

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