The singer is heading a new campaign for Whirlpool

By Kay West
Updated January 19, 2015 08:00 AM
Rick Diamond/Getty

One of Hunter Hayes‘s earliest steady gigs was playing at a small theater in his hometown of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, and one of his go-to crowd pleasers was the cheerful sing-a-long “You Are My Sunshine.”

“When I was a kid, I did a daily live show and I played that song a lot!” he tells PEOPLE. “It’s such a sweet sentiment and was one of Louisiana’s state songs, so it always went over really well.”

Though his repertoire is a lot bigger now, the 23-year-old is reviving the oft-recorded classic in a partnership with Whirlpool that kicks off Jan. 19. The home appliance company’s “Every day, care” campaign honors the unheralded caregivers in everyone’s daily lives.

Whirlpool and Hayes will invite people to film themselves singing, humming or playing (or if you’re like the multi-talented Hayes, all three at once) “You Are My Sunshine” and dedicate it to someone whose acts of care they believe deserve the spotlight.

“I feel like this song being the centerpiece of the campaign was kind of a sign for me to get involved,” Hayes says. “But I also love being part of something so meaningful. When they shared the premise with us, that everyday acts of kindness, little things that might seem unimportant are big acts of love, it really resonated.”

Grateful recipients of little acts of caring have until 11:49 p.m. ET on Jan. 25 to submit their video and dedication to A panel of judges will determine the winner, whose performance will air on a 30-second commercial during the Grammy Awards on Feb. 8. Though Hayes will be urging people through social media to participate and be part of the winning commercial, he is not one of the judges.

“I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision,” he says. “These things strike such a chord with my heart, I’d want everyone to win!”

Who would Hayes dedicate his version of the song to?

“My mom and dad, no question about it,” he says. “Whether it’s my mom who did all the cooking, every night at home, kept the house clean, laundry done, or all the things my dad did for us, to take care of us. And both of them worked too, sometimes two jobs. Those little things were acts of kindness and selflessness, so simple but so meaningful.”

Keeping it simple isn’t easy for Hayes, who admits “I’m a perfectionist, I always have been. And I can be obsessive, about lots of things.”

One of those things was “Invisible,” the song that he debuted last year at the Grammys and earned him his fifth career nomination.

“The recording of that song was definitely a roller coaster to the extreme,” he admits. “From moments of absolute awesomeness in the studio listening to the track and going ‘Yeah! We’ve got it!’ to not so good moments of not knowing if it was really that great. I spent two months working on this song. I sang it at least 100 times, I kid you not.”

After mixing and producing the track too much, Hayes went back to the basics, singing the demo version alone in “the crappiest sounding vocal booth you could possibly find in Nashville,” he says.

“I was crying, I was so emotional,” he remembers. “This song really affected me, so I’m even more honored that this was nominated. ‘Invisible’ is so personal to me.”

Some personal things remain off-limits for the notably private Hayes. Might the young woman he brought to the 2014 CMA Awards – 25-year-old hairstylist Libby Barnes – be the person who advised him to simplify the song? Might she be by his side in the Staples Center as he waits to hear if “Invisible” takes home the Grammy for best country solo performance?

“I will neither confirm nor deny anything,” he replies with a laugh. “It’s strange to me that there’s that much interest in that part of my life. It’s funny and puzzling to me.”

The 57th Grammy Awards will air live Feb. 8 on CBS at 8 p.m. ET.