Luke Combs walked away from the 2018 CMA Awards as the winner in the category of New Artist of the Year, but his victory might never have happened if it hadn't been for a little timely inspiration from his icon -- and fellow Appalachian State alum -- Eric Church. After accepting his award and watching Church's electric "Desperate Man" performance during the ceremony, Combs reflected to media backstage about the superstar's impact on him as a young artist.

"I went to a really small college in North Carolina, and my freshman year, a buddy of mine came into my room and said, 'Hey, this guy's playing on campus tonight, and he went to school here. His name's Eric Church,'" Combs recalls. However, the young Combs -- who at that point in his life had yet to pick up a guitar -- wasn't particularly interested at first.

"I didn't give his music a chance that day, to be honest with you," he goes on to say. "But a couple weeks later, I had what were at the time illegal beverages -- now legal beverages -- and I said, 'You know what? I'm gonna give this guy's album a shot.'"

That was the moment everything changed for Combs. "I listened to that album front to back, and it really changed my outlook. It changed a lot of things about country music for me." While Church may have made Combs a country music fan that day, it wasn't until three years later that the "She Got the Best of Me" singer made the leap into being a performer and an artist in his own right -- and Church was partially the inspiration behind that decision, too.

"When I decided to pick the guitar up, I just said, 'You know what, if this guy went to college here, and he can be onstage at the CMAs, winning CMA Awards and getting No. 1 songs, I don't see why I can't do it,'" Combs continues. "He really inspired me to have a tunnel vision-like approach to what I want to do.

"I'm very lucky to have run into his music, because I really don't think I would be here without it," he adds, paying a nod to the trophy in his hands.

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