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Keith Urban's career burning ever brighter

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP
Country music artist Keith Urban performs in concert during the NFL football Kickoff 2013 at the Inner Harbor on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, in Baltimore.

Country superstar Keith Urban, more and more, is becoming an overall superstar and a household name, say music-industry observers.

Certainly, Urban's stint on the hit Fox reality show “American Idol” has given him an even-higher profile than the Australian singer already had, says Michael McCall, an editor and writer for publications at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn. And Urban plays the role well, serving as a kind and encouraging judge.

“This exposed him to a bigger fan base ... He was a big star before,” McCall says.

“I think he's good at giving advice,” says McCall about Urban, who also has mentored people in Nashville. “He likes that role of ... encouraging other talents.

“I don't think (Urban) sees what he does as competitive,” he says. “I think he sees it as spreading his tent ... and encouraging others.”

In addition to starting auditions last week for Season 13 of “American Idol,” Urban is continuing his Light the Fuse Tour, which began in July and will end in February in Nashville. The tour stops Sept. 13 at First Niagara Pavilion in Burgettstown. He released his latest album, “Fuse,” on Sept. 10.

Urban's first album in nearly three years is also his first since 2011 surgery to remove a polyp from one vocal cord and a nodule from another. After the surgery, Urban had to re-train, since he no longer had to strain to hit certain notes.

“To go up there didn't require half the effort it used to, so I would constantly be singing sharp, well above the note, because my muscles were used to the heavy lifting,” he told USA Today.

McCall says Urban loves live performance. That's where he's getting to road-test his new sounds and see where they might take him next.

“I'm more driven by where country could go than anything else,” he told USA Today. “I make whatever records I make. I don't even think of them in terms of genre. They're just me and my sound. This album was seeing where I could take my sound and, in the process, maybe that's a particular kind of country music in 2014.”

It's obvious “the enjoyment he gets from being an entertainer, being on stage and playing the guitar,” McCall says.

McCall saw Urban play in Nashville during the ‘90s, when Urban was part of a band called The Ranch. Urban's performance was impressive, and he clearly had star potential, McCall says.

Urban — whose biggest hits include “Little Bit of Everything,” “You Gonna Fly,” “Sweet Thing,” “Days Go By” and “Making Memories of Us” — plays triple-talent roles as a singer, songwriter and stellar guitarist, says Jeremy Mulder, a disc jockey for the Froggy country radio stations in the region.

“The guy could be lead guitarist for any band out there,” says Mulder, whose on-air moniker is Danger Frog. “Great voice, great songwriter. He's the real deal.”

With his job at “American Idol,” Mulder says, Urban gets to do something the touring singer seldom does otherwise: Go to a regular job, and stay in one place.

“To get paid millions of dollars to be in one city for several months like Los Angeles, sit in the chair and critique people's singing — I think just about every singer out there would love to have that job,” Mulder says.

Urban's the only holdover from last year's judging panel, though Randy Jackson will serve as a mentor on the show next season. He's joined this year by Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr.

Once in an interview, Mulder asked the singer about his stint on “Idol.”

“He just said, flat-out, it's a great gig,” he says.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824. USA Today contributed to this report.

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