In April, Jake Owen will be vying for the titles of Top New Male Artist and Vocal Event of the Year (for his "Life in a Northern Town" collaboration with Sugarland and Little Big Town) at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. Earlier this week, however, after he rocked Good Morning America in support of his second album, Easy Does It — and before he flew home to Tennessee for a party celebrating his cover of Nashville Lifestyles magazine, which dubbed him country music’s most eligible bachelor — he grabbed a beer with EW in New York City and took the prize for our most revealing Pop Culture Personality Test yet. And not just because he talked about buying condoms…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Billy Currington told us he hasn’t had a TV since, like, 2001. Say you own a TV, even if you’re lying.
JAKE OWEN: I do have a TV, but I never watch it. I can’t stand to just sit there. If I’m gonna sit down, I usually play guitar or I play with my dog [a bulldog named Vern, after country great Vern Gosdin]. I’ve been dating a girl [2006 Miss Tennessee USA Lauren Grissom] for a while, and she was mad because I don’t have a TV anywhere in my house other than in the downstairs area. I was like, Why? If you’re gonna be in the bedroom, there ain’t no need for a TV. You know what I mean? [Laughs] If you’re that bored, then we don’t need to be dating.
You were on the road to becoming a professional golfer. [After a waterskiing accident in college, he had reconstructive shoulder surgery that put his left arm in a sling for months. That's when he picked up the guitar.] Who’s the best celebrity golfer you’ve encountered?
That’s what kind of bothers me: When I see Golf Digest and they rate the top celebrity golfers, my name’s not ever on there. Not to be cocky, but I’ll take on anybody.
Will you take on Justin Timberlake, who was ranked No. 15 among musicians in 2008?
There’s not a lot of things that I could tell you I’d take Justin Timberlake at, but I would smoke him in a game of golf. Tell JT to bring it. I’ve already tried to set that up.
The person or band you’ve seen most often in concert?
Being on tour last year with Alan Jackson…I saw a lot of Alan Jackson shows. I mean, I could pretty much recite [his stage banter]. I’d bring a friend out, "Do you want to see Alan Jackson from the side of the stage," and he’d be like, "Hell yeah." And we’d go watch him, and right before he’d be like, "Hey, how y’all doin’? It’s nice to be here in Virginia. I’m from Georgia," I’d look at my friend and be like, "I’m from Georgia." It was down pat.
You’ve opened for a lot of people: Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Sugarland. Who has the best backstage set up?
KennyChesney without a doubt. The thing about Kenny Chesney is, he just loves to have fun. But he works hard, and he likes for people to work hard around him. In order for people to work hard, they also need to feel comfortable and appreciated, and by the setting that he has backstage, his "Vibe Room," people feel like they’re workin’ for a purpose.
The purpose of…
Margaritas. It’s awesome…. This isn’t a negative thing, but I went from the Kenny Chesney tour to the Brad Paisley tour, and Brad doesn’t drink. So at his end-of-the-year party, it was, like, ice cream social as opposed to, like, margarita social. And for me, I’m more of the margarita social kind of guy.
The person or band you have to see in concert before you die?
I’ve never seen Merle Haggard in concert, and I’ve always wanted to see Merle Haggard. I finally just got to see AC/DC the other day, which was the highlight of my life. I really want to see the Rolling Stones. And Van Halen, but with David Lee Roth. And I wish I could’ve seen Waylon [Jennings].
The best concert you’ve seen?
If I had to pick my top three, it was the Raconteurs at the Ryman, AC/DC at the Sommet Center, and Fuel at Music Midtown in Atlanta. I know, it’s so weird. Fuel came out and just punched people in the face with their music. It was awesome. I really, truly wish that at some point in my life, I can do that with my music — just kick people in the face with it, in a good way, where they walk away and they’re like, Wow, that kinda stung, but I want to come back again. It was hot as hell that day, and the lead singer came out in a full fur coat and this bottle of wine and he just started pounding it. And it got all over his white fur coat and he didn’t even care. [Laughs] I just thought it was awesome, because it wasn’t the Rolling Stones or some big band. It was Fuel. [Note: Owen can school you on anyone from Chet Baker to Peter Frampton. He takes his music seriously, even going to see George Jones by himself at the Ryman rather than risk taking someone who didn’t respect the Possum. "It was awesome. And I got hammered. I was three rows back, and I was singin’ every song. I still have my ticket…" Okay, not that seriously.]
Jonas Brothers: Get it or don’t get it?
I didn’t get it until I saw them at the Grammys with Stevie Wonder, and I thought they killed it. But at first…when that kid walked through that glass thing at the [2007 American Music Awards] and fell, I cracked up laughing. I was like, Did he do that on purpose? And I realized afterwards, he didn’t. I just felt like they weren’t playing their instruments, and it kinda bothered me. But they’re pretty talented guys…. Whatever. [Laughs] If the Jonas Brothers called me to go on tour with them, I would not say no, okay?
The song you wish you’d written?
"Chiseled in Stone" by Vern Gosdin. The song starts off, "You ran crying to the bedroom, I ran off to the bar." Okay, that’s a lot like me. And he sits down next to this old guy at the bar, and he tells him this story, and the guy says, "You don’t know about lonely ’til it’s chiseled in stone." That gives me goosebumps.
Your guilty pleasure dance song?
"Crank That (Soulja Boy)." I can do that. You should see me.
[Points to a wide open section of the bar]
Will you do it with me?
I learned it from my drummer. [Performs it in his seat.] It’s really good. I did it in front of my girlfriend, and she’s like, "Don’t ever, ever, ever do that again." I was like, "Why?" And she was like, "Just don’t ever do it." And then it kinda made me think that since the song’s not that old, like, maybe the guy she dated before me Soulja Boy’d it. But there’s no way he can Soulja Boy like I can. I can moonwalk, too. If "Billie Jean" comes on…
Your position on karaoke?
It’s awesome. I swear to you, the first time I went down the street from my house to this bar called Jonathan’s and there was karaoke goin’ on, I’m sittin’ in the back, and all the sudden out of nowhere, I hear the intro to my song. I’m like, Whaaat? And there was this skinny black kid just pourin’ his heart out singin’ "Startin’ With Me." And he had no idea that I was there. It was pretty random to see a black male sing a country song, especially down the street from my house not knowing he was gonna be doing that. So when he finished, I bought him a beer, and I walked over and I was like, "Dude, good job." He looked at me, and literally, this guy started crying. Crying…. He said he just got back from Iraq and his wife or girlfriend had left him while he was over there, but a lot of it was his own fault, and my "Startin’ With Me" song meant so much to him, that every time he goes to a bar and drinks, if there’s a karaoke machine, he sings it. He said, "I don’t even care if people listen, it makes me feel good." That’s why I like karaoke.
No, but I’ve witnessed some good "Purple Rain"s.
Well, we need to go karaoking. You’ll be there just rockin’ out on some sort of Cyndi Lauper song.
[Gasps] She’s one of the people I do.
See, we know each other.
Her and Pat Benatar.
I have a sick Pat Benatar T-shirt.
Watch the video for "Life in a Northern Town," by Sugarland featuring Little Big Town and Jake Owen
A piece of pop culture memorabilia from your childhood that you wish you still had?
I used to have this Scooby-Doo lunchbox when I was a kid that had the matching Thermos, and you know how those lunchboxes after school, by the time you got home, smelled? My mom would always put a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in it, and then my peanut butter and jelly sandwich would taste like that lunchbox. And even though it tasted like s—, I really wish I could still eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that tasted like that lunchbox.
The person you wrote a fan letter to when you were young?
George Bush. It was kind of a team effort. It was my [fraternal twin] brother’s idea. He wrote this whole letter to George Bush saying, "I heard you like to fish. I live in Florida, and I like to fish. And I was wonderin’ if you wanted to come fishin’." And he wrote him back. My mother still has the letter signed George Bush.
The movie you have to watch every time you spot it on cable or need something to play on the tour bus?
Caddyshack. The Big Lebowski. You know what movie I need to watch again is Old Yeller. And Swiss Family Robinson. Dude, I watched that again the other day. I downloaded it off iTunes, and I still, to this day, I’m 27-year-old and I want a treehouse made out of coconuts. I want that house. I want to be a f—in’ Robinson really bad. [Laughs] Seriously. They get stranded on an island and within three days they have the most amazing fort you’ve ever seen in your life. When you’re a kid, you’re like, That’s unbelievable. And then, I’m 27, and I’m like, That’s unreal.
You should go on Survivor.
I don’t like Survivor. They put Americans in a place where people already live and they pay ‘em a million dollars to survive. That doesn’t send a really good message…. Lauren, the girl I’m dating, is, like, casted for the next season of Survivor. She’s like, "Do you care if I do Survivor?" I’m like, "No. Survive." She can’t go without Facebook for one day, how is she gonna go survive in the wilderness on bugs? I don’t believe that…. Part of me doesn’t want her to do it, because come on, if I’m a dude, and I’m in the middle of the wilderness, and there’s a chick there, too, I’m gonna wanna hook up with that chick. So I feel like it’s detrimental to our relationship, Survivor. So maybe if she wants our relationship to survive, she won’t go on Survivor.
The movie that made you cry?
Cast Away. It pissed me off because this guy made friends with a volleyball, it kept him going and going and going just so he could make it back, and [SPOILER ALERT] he finally made it back and tracked her down and she’d married a guy and had a kid. That would have devastated me. And, I’m not gonna lie, The Notebook kinda got to me a little bit.
Do you smuggle snacks into the movie theater? If so, what?
Hell yeah. Haribo Gummi Bears.
Your best communal moviegoing experience?
Rocky. Pearl [shows the tattoo of her name on the inside of his wrist] is like the angel of my life and she’s my godmother. She’s 66 now, but she cusses like a sailor, drinks like a fish, and smokes like a chimney. I’ll never forget when she took me to see Rocky. Rocky was gettin’ his ass kicked, and then he comes back and starts beatin’ that guy, and Pearl stood up in the middle of the theater and goes, "Kick his f—in’ ass, Rocky!" As though it was happening right there right then. Here I was, like, eight-years-old, and I’m lookin’ up at her. I’ll never forget that. People are screamin’ at the screen.
Name something you think is overrated.
Facebook. I shouldn’t even get on this. I lot of people love it, but for me, I’d rather just pick the phone up and call you, and be like, "Hey, what’s goin’ on?" not write it on your wall, so Cassie [his pro-Facebook publicist] can see what I said to you…. If you haven’t already seen it, I’m gonna forward you this [Newsweek.com piece] on the seven lies you tell yourself about why you use Facebook. It’s, like, because you’re f—in’ nosy…. I think it’s crazy that people go on in order to read other people’s business. And girls are manipulative. Like, if I’m datin’ a girl –
Oh, you got busted. That’s what this is about.
I didn’t get busted. But for instance, I’m dating a girl now. A year ago, I was dating this other girl. What am I gonna do, because we’re not dating anymore, you’re not my friend on Facebook anymore either? No. So if she writes me a message, "Hey, I saw you on Good Morning America today. It was really good. Congratulations!" All of the sudden, my girlfriend sees that on my page and is pissed off at me. Whereas she wouldn’t even have known that if that girl would’ve just texted me and said, "Hey, you did great on Good Morning America this morning." It’s a way for people to get in fights and I hate that. I don’t like confrontation.
Name something you think is underrated.
Southwest Airlines. A lot of people say Southwest Airlines is like the Wal-Mart of airlines, but I kinda like the fact that you can pick your own seat, check in early, and also have a staff of people that are comedians. In the middle of turbulence, they’re goin’ "Whooooo!" over the intercom, and it makes everybody laugh.
Something you’re embarrassed to buy?
[Thinks for 15 seconds, smiles] Condoms. You can’t fault somebody for wantin’ to be safe…. I know I’m being really honest, but the last time I walked into a store and felt really uncomfortable was when I had to buy a pack of condoms. ‘Cause they’re like, "Oh, you’re gettin’ lucky tonight, huh?" It’s like, "No…I’m just, you know, pre-planning." And especially now….
That you’re recognized?
Yeah. They’re like, "Hey, Jake was in here and…." That’s why, if I do buy condoms, I buy Magnums.