Photos: Luke Bryan Shows Off His Georgia Hometown for Fellow ‘American Idol’ Judges

Two-time CMA entertainer of the year winner Luke Bryan’s small-town Southern roots will be on display when the upcoming 22nd season of American Idol premieres on Feb. 18 on ABC.

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Bryan, who has been a judge on Idol since 2018, took his fellow judges Katy Perry and Lionel Richie on an American Idol “field trip” to his hometown of Leesburg, Georgia (population 3,480 as of the 2020 census), located three hours south of Atlanta. In the process, the affable singer-songwriter brought Perry and Richie into the places and spaces that helped shape not only many of Bryan’s 26 No. 1 Country Airplay hits, but his charismatic stage presence and who Bryan is as a person.

“To be able to bring Lionel and Katy to my hometown was a real big deal,” Bryan tells Billboard via email. “Growing up I was a Lionel fan and he has been such a huge inspiration to my music. So now having Lionel and Katy as a friends, it was so special to show them how I grew up and what made me who I am. I was on 10 the whole day!”

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Of course, Bryan has paid homage to his hometown throughout his career, most notably in the music video for “Born Here Live Here Die Here,” title track of his 2020 album. The video clip features both footage of the artist-writer’s energetic live shows, but also footage of Leesburg.

One of the stops on the Idol tour in Leesburg was a place Bryan spent ample time as a teen: Lee County High School, which he graduated from in 1996. The trio walked through the halls of the high school, and even dropped in on a few classes to greet students. “We took a lot of selfies and saw [the students’] excitement,” Bryan recalls. “The fact that we could disrupt their day, have fun and let them see us in the gym and walking the halls was great. It was really special to interact with the kids in that way.”

“The school felt bigger as more people have moved into the area, but the vibe still felt small and quaint,” adds Bryan. “They did win a state championship in football [in 2017 and 2018] since I went there, but the school still had the heart and soul that existed back then.”

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Bryan also recalls his favorite memories of being at Lee High School, including Friday night football games, playing baseball during his freshman and sophomore years, and regular meetups after school at the local gas station to celebrates high school sports team wins (or commiserate on losses). Bryan had a high school band and was part of his school’s drama program, performing in Annie Get Your Gun, among other roles.

“The main thing was growing up in a small town where everybody knew each other,” he said. “The teachers looked after you and worked with you. It was just a great school to get a well-rounded education.”

Outside of Leesburg High School, Bryan took Richie and Perry to one of his favorite fishing spots, along the Flint River. Bryan’s fans will instantly recognize the name of the 344-mile river that runs from south of Atlanta through the Gulf Coastal Plain, as Bryan immortalized it in songs like “That’s My Kind of Night,” “We Rode in Trucks” and “Huntin,’ Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day.”

Luke Bryan x American Idol

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“We only fished briefly as the conditions weren’t great that day, but the river was a place where I grew up fishing as a kid, so it was good to have them get out in nature that day,” he says. “I think they appreciated it and saw that the river was instrumental and inspirational in my songwriting.”

Bryan grew up helping at his family’s peanut mill, so he took joy in showing his fellow judges a local peanut mill–and the visit made for a cool moment with fellow judge Perry.

“Some of my favorite moments were definitely talking Lionel and Katy to the peanut mill, and letting Katy dump a wagon of peanuts and watching the dust fly up,” Bryan says.

Luke Bryan x American Idol

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