What Happened When PEOPLE Spent the Day with Hunter Hayes

The country star let us tag along for his Today performance – and had us watch him get inked

Photo: Katie Kauss/PEOPLE.com

What’s a country singer to do when he’s about to announce his Tattoo (Your Name) Tour? Get a tattoo, of course!

That’s exactly what Hunter Hayes did Thursday night, mere hours before his big tour announcement on Today. True, it was a henna tattoo, but it’s still pretty major – and PEOPLE was there for the whole three-hour adventure, getting a peek at the intricate design.

We arrived at the New York Palace hotel Thursday afternoon and were eager to see what 22-year-old Hayes – the reigning CMA new artist of the year – had planned for his ink.

Turns out, the design included names and representative symbols of all the states on his upcoming tour. There’s a peach for Georgia, a fleur-de-lis for his home state of Louisiana, a block of cheese for Wisconsin – you get the picture. The top of the tattoo is lined with music notes and the quote “For the Love of Music.”

Settling in for a long night with henna artist Zahra Virji, Hayes opened up about his first arena tour, which kicks off in Pennsylvania on Oct. 30.

“I’ve always wanted to play arenas,” he told PEOPLE exclusively. “It’s a brilliant sounding room and I think they’re beautiful.” After a nice chat while the ink set, we all parted ways – an early morning at Today was on the horizon!

On Friday, our alarm went off at 5:15 a.m. so we could get to Rockefeller Center in time for a sound check and little mingling with fans. Did we mention fans? There were lots of them, and Hayes is endlessly grateful for their support. “As you evolve as an artist and people accept you for new work as much as they accepted your old, it’s a thrill,” he told us.

Before his Today performance, Hayes paused to film a birthday message for a fan’s friend, signed autographs and posed for countless selfies. “I’ve been asked to sign a few foreheads,” he told us – seriously.

On Friday morning, we got to see the full effect of Hayes’s henna tattoo – and made him promise to bring us along if he ever decided to get inked for real (he says he’s thinking about it).

Following his Today performance, which included a guest spot doing the weather with Al Roker, Hayes met up with 100 fans to take pictures and sign even more autographs.

While the star’s day continued with more interviews, he bid us farewell with the kind of smile one wears with true happiness, gratitude and lots of sleep. (We don’t know how he does it!)

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