McGraw performed with Scotty McCreery during the finale of American Idol's 10th season and continues to mentor the up-and-coming singer today
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Still, he’s all too happy to help up-and-coming singers prove themselves as well. Recognized as a pioneer of the current country-­rock movement that includes artists such as Jason Aldean, Eric Church and Kip Moore, he generously and frequently mentors younger artists. In 2011, for instance, he traveled to Los Angeles to perform a duet on the American Idol 10th-season finale with eventual winner Scotty McCreery, and their relationship has continued since.

“Tim has been great,” says McCreery, 19. “My first time meeting him was the Idol finale, and he came in there and told me it was my show and that he wanted to make me look good. He gave me a lot of tips and really helped me out. He’s been really supportive ever since, and he’s a great guy all around.”

At each of the 31 stops on his “Two Lanes of Freedom” tour, McGraw, in partnership with Chase Bank and Operation Homefront, will award a home to a deserving military veteran and his or her family. Learn more at www.operationhomefront.net


And Taylor Swift — who launched her career with a song called “Tim McGraw” — joins McGraw and Keith Urban on the song “Highway Don’t Care” on McGraw’s new album.

“I’ve always felt like Tim and Faith are two of the best people in country music,” Swift says. “They’ve been there for me over the years in so many ways. That kind of friendship and support builds trust. I knew Tim wouldn’t ask me to sing on a song unless he was absolutely fired up about it. It turned out to be something I was really excited about, too — not to mention it’s obviously, like, a childhood dream come true to sing a duet with one of my musical heroes. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.”

The title of McGraw’s new album, Two Lanes of Freedom, is an apt description of where he’s at in his life. This is his first release with his new label, Big Machine Records, which boasts an all-star roster of industry heavyweights that includes Swift and Rascal Flatts. He also has a new manager, several new band members and a svelte new physique, thanks to the 40 pounds he dropped after he stopped drinking. “There’s a lot of freshness in my career, in my life,” he says.

The title track was among the first songs he recorded for the project, and its energy, acceleration and sense of release set the tone for the album, with the rest of the songs flowing naturally thereafter. A love of the open road has been a popular theme throughout the course of country music, and it’s no different for McGraw, who’s in the midst of a 30-city summer tour that started last month and runs through July. Although touring means that he’s often away from his family, McGraw, the only male in a household of four females, welcomes the routine and male bonding the road offers. “Some of the guys work out together and talk about music all day and go on the bus and listen to music and come up with different ideas of how to change the show around,” he says. He also flies in and out of cities more these days, in an effort to be home as much as he can.

He’s been lucky enough to combine work and his personal life at times, as he did with the “Soul2Soul” tour, a co-headlining venture he launched with Hill in 2000 that went on to become the highest-grossing and most successful in the country that year. They returned in 2006 with “Soul2Soul II,” the highest-grossing country-music tour of all time, and demand remains high for the pair to do another multicity sequel. Because family life currently prohibits the couple from returning to the road at the same time, Hill and McGraw set up shop in Las Vegas in December, performing a limited five-month “Soul2Soul” run at the 1,815-seat Venetian Theatre.
Optimal Performance: McGraw shines onstage, and it's no accident: “That is the time I love the most,” he says.
Thien Phan

No matter where he’s playing — an intimate Vegas auditorium or a jam-packed amphitheater — there’s just something about a live show that McGraw loves, something that fuels him to keep going.

“Being out there when it’s hot and the crowds are having a good time and it’s packed all the way up to the fence, the lawn is covered with people — there is nothing like that energy,” he says. And when he plays audience favorites like “Where the Green Grass Grows,” “I Like It, I Love It” and “Live Like You Were Dying,” the feeling soars to another level. “Every time we do ‘Live Like You Were Dying,’ it refreshes itself to me,” he says. “I never get unsurprised, if that’s a word, by the audience’s reaction. It always shocks me every time how much we feed each other on that song.”

For the eternal underdog who started off unsure of himself and, two decades into his record-breaking career, still says things like, “I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’ve totally got it,” the stage is where he feels most in his element. He may be the Everyman offstage, but on stage, he gets to put his humility away and be the cool, confident Superman the world sees. “From the minute you step out there until the minute you leave, I own that time,” he says. “That is the time that I know that I am in complete control. No matter what happens, I can drive this train. That is the time that I love the most.”

His passion for performing is obvious. Just ask any one of his millions of fans — ­including McCreery.

“Tim is all kinds of energy out there and really puts all he’s got into a show,” he says. “If you haven’t seen a Tim McGraw show, you need to — it’s really something special.”

Having taken command of his life both personally and professionally, McGraw is in a place he can be proud of. And no matter how many milestones he reaches, his fans can rest assured he’ll never be satisfied with status quo.

“I don’t know if I can think of it getting any better, except me getting better as an artist, me trying to prove to myself that I can get better,” he says. “I feel like I am only about 35 percent there. I’ve got a lot more ahead of me.”