November 10, 2010 12:00 PM

After spending seven months walking from Nashville to Phoenix to raise awareness for homeless teens, Jimmy Wayne is happy to say he’s a changed man. “Someone recently asked me, ‘Doesn’t it feel good to get back to reality?’ ” says Wayne. “But out there, that is reality. The music business is all about ‘me, me, me.’ But out there life is much simpler, and people actually go out of their way for each other. It was just an incredible revelation.”

During the walk he calls “a seven-month baptism and resurrection,” Wayne, 37, was surrounded by small-town folk living a life far from Nashville celebrity and admits the experience left him humbled. “I met this one family who lived in the middle of the desert with solar power and a windmill turning in their yard,” says Wayne. “That’s all they had, no generators, no electricity, nothing-and they were so happy! It reminded me that certain things matter and certain things don’t.”

That newfound perspective helped ease the shock when he was dropped from his record label midway through the walk. “Years ago I would have had a heart attack, but now it’s like, ‘Okay, I’ll just have to team up with someone who does get my vision,’ ” says the singer, who scored a No. 1 hit with the 2008 power ballad “Do You Believe Me Now.” “Do I want to walk down a red carpet and win an award? Everybody in this business does,” he says. “But I can honestly say that I’m very content right now with where I am in my life. I feel like I know exactly who I am.”

A former foster kid himself, Wayne also takes pride in having drawn attention to teens who age out of the foster care system and have nowhere to go. And he knows the experience will inspire his music for years to come. “Getting up every day and seeing hundreds of open miles in front of you, you have the whole world to yourself; you think of everything possible,” he says. “The flood gates are open, and I’ve been writing for hours every day.”

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