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The singer divulges why you might catch him singing "No Diggity" in a karaoke bar

By Eileen Finan
October 30, 2014 01:00 PM
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Credit: Todd Williamson/AP Images

Each day leading up to next week’s CMA Awards, PEOPLE will feature one of the five CMA new artist of the year nominees sharing thoughts on his or her favorite music and memorable musical moments.

Brett Eldredge has already had some big moments this year, including celebrating his second No. 1 hit, “Beat of the Music,” by swimming with sharks. But sharing a nomination for CMA new artist of the year with his buddies is hard to beat, the singer says.

“I remember walking the streets in Nashville, just fighting for anybody to give me a shot and to record my voice on anything,” the Paris, Illinois, native tells PEOPLE. “To be nominated is just an amazing feeling.”

And, he notes, his fellow nominees are more than just friendly competition: “Kip Moore and I run around with the same people and we always see each other at the pool when we’re home. Cole Swindell and I are on the same record label and we came up writing songs around Nashville and we hang out have a few drinks together and same thing with Thomas Rhett. And Brandy Clark, I just love her music. So victory would be sweet, but however it goes, it’s all good.”

Eldredge, 28, takes a similarly laid-back and ecumenical approach to the music he loves. Read on to find out why 2Pac, Frank Sinatra and Brooks & Dunn all share a place in his collection:

First CD you bought?
“I was probably 11 or so and it was Garth Brooks The Hits. It was a gift for my dad for Christmas, but I listened to it. It was a gift that gave back! One of the other early ones was Boyz II to Men – [singing] ‘Why don’t we go to the end of the road ‘ – that one! I love soulful music and they had such good harmonies and they were so cool.”

First concert? “One of the first real memorable shows was Nelly. He was the man when I was in high school. It was at University of Illinois in the Assembly Hall arena and I was crazy about his music. Everybody listened to it at football practice and after school. I also remember smelling something skunky in the air that I never smelled before! Somebody had to explain to me what it was.”

Best concert? “It was Bonnaroo, outside of Nashville, in 2010, Stevie Wonder and then following him was Jay Z. It was the most unbelievable one-two punch. Stevie Wonder has the most amazing melodies and piano playing and classic songs and then Jay Z comes up with that swagger and he just had it down. He had that crowd.”

First song you performed in public? “One of the first ones was ‘Mack the Knife’. When I was about 13, my mom bought me a CD of all this old music and said I should try that song. I told her ‘That’s old people music!’ but I started listening and I started singing ‘Mack the Knife’ in talent shows and I won every one. And I grew this love for big band stuff and Frank Sinatra became my all-time idol in music.”

Album you couldn’t live without? “Probably John Mayer’s Continuum. That record was just overall the best record I’ve heard in the last 20 years. It had a mixture of pop and soul and blues and he blends all this stuff to make it commercial but his own thing. He makes that guitar sing and he has that cool voice and I can listen to every song on that album and never get tired of it.”

Most unexpected music on your iPod? “I have a lot of Christmas music. I’m one of those guys who jams it early. In gearing up for Thanksgiving, I’ll be jamming the Christmas songs. I’m a big kid at heart and I like that warm feeling it gives you when you hear it. My favorite is Bing Crosby, the White Christmas album.”

Best music for a workout? “I love to work out to ‘Bang Bang’ – it’s such a simple chorus but it’s so hooky and it’s got a lot of attitude and I like that. And I like that ‘Trumpets’ song by Jason Derulo – it’s really wacky and I love wacky. And ‘California Love’ by 2Pac! Workout music has to have that beat and attitude – it’s got to drive you and make you want to stick with it.”

Song that always makes you cry?Ray LaMontagne’s ‘Jolene’ is one of my favorites. Listening to it, you feel like you’re on the side of the road, face down in a ditch and you’re waking up with the worst hangover ever. You are that guy. It has a lot of emotion and that’s what you go for as a songwriter.”

Your go-to karaoke song?‘No Diggity’ by Blackstreet! In Nashville, you see people going to the karaoke bar to show off like it’s a contest, but I just want to goof off. ‘No Diggity’ still has a lot of range, but I mean you’re singing ‘no diggity’! Everybody gets into it and sings along.”

Favorite road music? “It’s hard to beat Tom Petty. It’s just American music. It’s the roots of the whole country and he’s an icon. We can go through his greatest hits album on the bus and not skip one song.”

Music you listen to before taking the stage?Brooks & Dunn – they are the reason I got into country. I’ll turn on one of their honky-tonking, slamming songs and just turn it up and it puts me right there in that crowd.”

The CMA Awards air live on Wednesday, Nov. 5, on ABC.

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Brett Eldredge Performs ‘Beat of the Music’