Keith Urban is a superstar, but to the Country Music Association, he's now more than that.
The singer-songwriter and "American Idol" judge was among the many artists featured at June's CMA Music Festival in Nashville -- which again yields ABC's annual special subtitled "Country's Night to Rock" (Tuesday night at 8) -- and the occasion meant even more for Urban than its usual chance to commune with fans and other country stars. During the four-day event, he was named the first national ambassador for the CMA's "Music Education Matters" campaign, which supplies instruments and teaching support for inner-city youth.
"Music education, particularly getting it into a lot of the schools where they're doing away with it, is something that's very important to me," Urban says, "purely because it was such a big part of my life growing up. I just went to a basic public school in Queensland, Australia, but even there in our small town of Caboolture, there was a music room with a piano and a couple of guitars and a little drum kit and a couple of great teachers.
"I just took that all for granted," Urban admits, "so the idea that that side of the curriculum can be pushed aside in favor of other skill sets is concerning to me and every other kid who's got a musical aptitude. This is such a perfect fit for me, I'm grateful that they asked me and honored that I get to do it."
As part of his effort, Urban is donating 60 guitars (along with amplifiers, strings and picks) to school programs in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and -- not surprisingly -- Nashville.
Little Big Town hosts the CMA Music Festival telecast for the third consecutive time. Other performers featured in the show include Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Lady Antebellum, Dierks Bentley, Zac Brown Band, Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Florida Georgia Line, Lee Brice, Cole Swindell, Brett Eldredge and Eric Church. The latter joins Urban on their duet "Raise 'Em Up," from Urban's gold-certified album "Fuse."
Urban also introduces "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16," the first single from his next release. "I don't have a lot of the rest of the record ready yet, but maybe I work good under pressure," he says. "It was the right song, and also, I went in and cut it with (producer) Dann Huff, and we were just so happy with the way it sounded, everybody was ready to get some new music out there sooner than later. And I was all for that."
With a number of U.S. concert dates in the coming weeks -- including an appearance Tuesday at Riverhead's FOLD Festival -- Urban is immersed already in the final season of Fox's "American Idol" as he again treks with host Ryan Seacrest and fellow judges Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. to various cities for the auditions. Adding even more to what Urban calls his "interesting travel season": trips to and from London, where wife Nicole Kidman is readying for a two-month run in the play "Photograph 51."
Still, Urban isn't complaining. "I just always think of it in terms of musicians being born travelers," he says. "That's what we do. That's what we know."