Though the holidays are still weeks away, Brett Eldredge can joyfully say his Christmas dreams have already come true.
The little boy who grew up listening to all the classic albums of Christmas can rightfully claim he has one of his own with the enduring popularity of 2016’s Glow.
And yeah, country’s newest Mister Christmas is glowing about it. “I get to be that voice on those speakers for some other kid out there and his family,” Eldredge, 32, tells PEOPLE.
Now he’s making the legions of Glow fans even merrier with the release of a deluxe edition, featuring five new handpicked favorites. As with the original album, a studio full of brass, strings and reeds carry his new music along, and his voice continues to be a preternatural fit with the lush Big Band sound — so much so that you can’t help but wonder: Did he make a mistake picking the country genre?
Eldredge offers a hearty laugh.
“I think the beautiful thing is I can do both,” he says. “It’s not a surprise where my loyalty lies, but at the same time I want to be able to contribute what I felt I was born to do in a lot of different ways.”
That’s hardly an exaggeration. Growing up in tiny Paris, Illinois, he was weaned on Crosby, Sinatra and Nat King Cole holiday standards “to the level of probably geeking out over Christmas music,” he says. “For me, it was probably the coolest thing you could possibly listen to.”
In his teens, his mother brought home a Big Band karaoke-style CD, and Eldredge let loose his own inner crooner. “I started singing that stuff and I could sound like I was a 50-year-old man straight out of a nightclub when I was 14 years old,” he recalls, “and I was winning all these talent shows. Everybody’s like, ‘Who’s this kid?’”
Recording Glow in 2016, Eldredge says, finally allowed him to fully live the dream. “When I got in the studio and I heard and felt those horns and the whole orchestra in front of me,” he says, “I felt like I was in heaven.”
Earlier this year, he had a repeat trip when he went back to the New York studio to lay down the new Glow tracks, which include “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and “Sleigh Ride.” But his holiday spirit doesn’t end there.
He’s scheduled appearances on three Disney Christmas specials: Disney Parks Presents a 25 Days of Christmas Holiday Party, which aired on the Disney Channel last Friday; The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration on ABC Thursday evening; and Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade on ABC on Dec. 25.
On Wednesday, Eldredge made a return appearance on NBC’s annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center broadcast. He’ll also be singing again on ABC’s annual CMA Country Christmas, to air Dec. 10. And beginning Nov. 30, he’ll be taking his Christmas music on the road for a five-date tour.
The performances will cap a year that Eldredge already considers a milestone. In recent weeks, he has completed the second leg of his first headlining tour — almost 90 shows, and most were sellouts.
The excitement of the fans, he says, “re-energized me in a way that I had more fun on this tour than I’ve ever had playing music in my life.”
One major reason, he says, is that he has finally taken meaningful steps to overcome the anxiety, worsened by panic attacks, that has long plagued him and interfered with his life as a performer.
“You know, everybody goes through this stuff,” he says. “There’s just such a stigma that we shouldn’t talk about having anxiety … but it’s the most human thing. We’re bred as worriers.”
For Eldredge, one key has been letting go of the pressure he’s put on himself onstage. “I’ve had to learn that, okay, everybody in the crowd’s not looking for me to be the most perfect,” he says. “They’re looking for that connection.”
Offstage, he’s been working to stay in the present and keep at bay his worries about what may (or may not) happen.
“I realized that if I’m going to be the best version of me, I’ve got to take care of me,” he says. That’s translated into practicing meditation, keeping a gratitude journal and making time for physical recreation with his road crew. (Basketball or dodgeball, anyone?)
“If I can be more relaxed and more comfortable with who I am,” Eldredge says, “then I’m going to go up there onstage, and I’m going to give that person who I am to everyone and truly be the best version of me onstage as I am offstage.”
Eldredge now hopes to bring what he’s been learning about life and himself into a 2019 recording project, which he fully intends to be his “career album.”
But isn’t that a lot of … pressure?
Yeah, he admits, he hears the contradiction. “I’m a perfectionist and I’m working my way away from that,” he says. “But on this kind of thing, I know I can do it, and it’s different …This is what I’m supposed to do … The vulnerability of music is what has always grabbed a hold of me the most.”
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