NASHVILLE, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- At first glance, Blake Shelton appears as a baby-faced country singer, fresh from working-class America, with a memorable tenor and a bright future that already includes a hit song or two.
What one may not know is that Shelton, 27, spent seven years trying to get a song on the radio, is unafraid to disagree with his record label executives and counts Garth Brooks among his business mentors.
"Here's a guy who is really smart and probably masterminded every bit of success he had," Shelton said recently about Brooks from the Nashville's Warner Bros. offices.
"Garth thought it out. It wasn't by accident ... He wasn't afraid to take chances, and I try to do that," he said. "You've got to try some things because if you don't, it's real easy to blend in and fade away. And that's awful. To me, that would be the worst case scenario. What I want is to stand out."
Shelton is on a mission to succeed with his sophomore Warner Bros. album, "The Dreamer," which hit stores Tuesday. The CD already has yielded the Top Five single, "The Baby," an emotional story song about a youngest son's relationship with his mother.
Shelton presents this new project fresh off his debut, self-titled CD, which resulted in the hit singles "Austin" and "Ol' Red." Propelled by the success of "Ol' Red," the CD went gold -- sold more than 500,000 units -- in the summer of 2002.
"It's still the biggest song we do," Shelton said of the ballad about a prison bloodhound named Ol' Red and a prisoner's clever, and successful, escape ruse. Oddly, Shelton fought his label so he could release a video for "Ol' Red," which Shelton, and others, believe catapulted the song to the top of the charts.
Producing the new project was simpler the second time around, Shelton admitted.
"When you come out and you've had some success with your first record, Nashville really steps up and gives you better material," he said. "So we didn't have to do the grueling song search like we did for the first record, which took us three years to put together. I get people's quality stuff right off the bat."
Indeed, Shelton gathered songs by some of Nashville's top songwriters, including his producer Bobby Braddock, John Rich, Rivers Ruthersford and Harley Allen. Even Shelton contributed a song, the title track.
"When I first hit with 'Austin,' I was a guy who nobody knew who I was, and nobody cared who I was to, two months later, everybody was pulling at me," Shelton said in explaining the story behind "The Dreamer."
"People who wouldn't even return my calls not long ago were now calling me and I didn't know how to handle it. I ended up pushing people away from me ... I don't know why I did that, except I didn't know how to handle myself," he admitted. "I had a chance to make it up to those people and realize those were the people who had been there for me when I was nothing. That's what I wrote that song ('The Dreamer') about, especially for Kaynette, my now fiancee. She was one of those people who suffered during that time."
Much to Shelton's delight, his producer and label thought the song deserved to be on the CD.
"It became the album title," he said, "because I thought it was a great description of myself."