The world has finally learned what country fans have known since the beginning—Blake Shelton is superstar material. Blake is the breakout star of NBC’s The Voice, a show that gave the handsome Oklahoman the spotlight his fans have long hoped he’d get. Week after week, millions have gotten to see the talent and charisma that have made Blake one of country music’s brightest lights. Perhaps no one summed it up better than Entertainment Weekly editor-at-large Ken Tucker, who cited Blake’s “steady transformation into a real TV star, a country sage whose charm is squarely in the great TV traditions of Roger Miller, Jimmy Dean, and Tennessee Ernie Ford.” None of that is news to those who have watched Blake’s career unfold. Ever since the power and drama of his 2001 debut single, “Austin,” brought him to national attention, Blake has proven himself to be one of the genre’s most versatile and accomplished vocalists as well as one of its most compelling entertainers. His versatility is evident in the wide range of singles he has made his own. He has proven his ability with the stark drama of “The Baby” and “Home,” the honest regret of “She Wouldn’t Be Gone,” the warm intimacy of “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,” the celebration of the moment in “All About Tonight, and the over-the-top fun of “Hillbilly Bone.” His skill as an entertainer is apparent every time he takes the stage and carries fans on one of music’s most enjoyable journeys. The first single from his latest CD, “Honey Bee,” found the lanky superstar-next-door rising to a nowfamiliar spot—the #1 position on the country singles charts, which he has reached with six of his last seven singles. “Honey Bee” only hinted at the riches inside Red River Blue. Blake’s latest runs the gamut of everything he does well, from the romance of “Over,” with its big chorus and passionate vocals, and “God Gave Me You,” a powerful ode to the restorative powers of love, to the clever wordplay and pure country fun of “Hey” and “Get Some.” There is also “Ready To Roll,” a laid-back celebration of love and leisure, “Good Ole Boys,” with its echoes of Waylon and its nod to country boys in a hip-hop world, “I’m Sorry,” which displays one of the biggest voices in the genre closing the door on a love gone wrong, and the title track, a classic-sounding look at separation and longing with guest vocals from none other than Miranda Lambert. If it sounds like more than even a dreamer like Blake could have envisioned, you’ll get no argument from the man himself. “If you’d have told me a few years back that my life would be this good,” he says, “I’d have told you that you were crazy. But I’ll damn sure take it.” The journey has been a testament to the talent, the persistence and the sheer dynamism Blake brings to the table. He left Ada, Oklahoma, at 17, two weeks out of high school, for Nashville after encouragement from legendary songwriter (“Heartbreak Hotel”) Mae Axton. He met and worked with another legend—Bobby Braddock (“He Stopped Loving Her Today”)—and earned a deal on Giant Records. It would be several years before that led to a contract with Warner Bros. and “Austin,” which launched his career. Since then, his star power, world-class voice and irreverent personality have brought him the acclaim that has translated so well from the world of country music to a wider audience. “I’m still learning, still reaching and growing,” he says, “and it’s great to have more and more people along for the ride.” Tucker again sums up the Shelton magic. “Like all first-rate pop singers, country or otherwise,” Tucker writes, “he knows that the best way to impress an audience is by making something difficult look easy.” Speaking of his stint on The Voice, he adds, “Just watching him, the contestants got a lesson in how to comport yourself on stage, and, perhaps, in life.” It is high and richly deserved praise for a singer who has finally entered the upper reaches of the entertainment world.