Keith Urban Has Had Quite The Transformation

Few musicians have proven to be as adept at guitar-heavy country than music superstar Keith Urban. Born in New Zealand and growing up in Australia, this down-under import has made a huge impact on a distinctly American genre of music, gaining millions of fans across the planet.

Urban has charted several No. 1 singles on Billboard's country chart, including 2005's "Better Life," 2011's "Without You," and his 2013 hit, "We Were Us" with Miranda Lambert. He also made Billboard history as the artist with the largest consecutive number of top 10 songs on the country airplay chart. In 2022, he sold his catalog of master recordings to Litmus Music, and while the price hasn't been reported, it can be assumed that he made a few bucks on the deal.

Beyond his reputation as a chart-topping recording artist and wildly successful touring act, he has also made his mark on television on not one but two different reality competition series. And let's not forget his marriage to Oscar-winning actor/producer Nicole Kidman, with the couple continuing to make fans' hearts melt with their sweet, loved-up behavior toward each other. Amid his decades in the public eye, the ongoing journey of this intriguing musical superstar has kept fans captivated.

He picked up his first instrument at age 4

Keith Urban is widely recognized for his prowess on the guitar, but the first instrument he learned how to play was actually a ukulele, which was given to him when he was 4. Growing up in Brisbane, Australia, Urban — who was born Keith Urbahn — was surrounded by music thanks to his father, a country music aficionado who also played the drums. His life changed forever at the age of 5, when his parents took him to see music legend Johnny Cash in concert. At that young age, Urban could envision himself on stage, performing for a crowd.

Within a few years, the youngster shifted from ukulele to guitar, mastering the instrument well enough that he began performing on stage when he was just 7. Even as a kid, he loved the stage, performing at talent shows. He was still in his early teens, just 14, when he started a band and began playing gigs. His all-consuming interest in music led him to quit school at 15 so he could focus on music full-time, without the distractions of homework and detention.

Hitting the bar circuit in Brisbane, Urban performed whatever people wanted to hear, regardless of genre, an experience that laid the groundwork for his particular blend of country and rock. "I played all the clubs in Brissie growing up, playing top 40 covers, like so many of us do coming up through the ranks," he told Studio 10.

11-year-old Keith Urban was rejected by a TV talent competition

Keith Urban was already a seasoned performer when, at age 9, he appeared on the popular Australian TV talent show "Pot of Gold." After watching the youngster's performance of a country song, one of the show's judges offered an opinion that demonstrated he was not a fan — not necessarily of Urban's talent, but his choice of music.

"This one guy called Barnard King came at me, part of what he said, and I am quoting him, 'I definitely encourage you to escape the mediocrity of country western music and get into some real music,'" Urban recalled in a 2015 Q&A at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. "And he said, 'Kindly learn to sing in tune because you are intrinsically a good musician.'" Later, he asked his mother to explain the meaning of "intrinsically," and she said it meant that he was a natural. "I said well, cool. I just discarded the rest of that junk and hung on to that bit," he added.

That may have been discouraging, but did not deter him from trying again. Years later, the 16-year-old appeared on another talent show, "New Faces," where he sang the Air Supply hit, "All Out of Love." Once again, he didn't win; this time, the judges pointed out his tendency to inhale in the middle of vocal phrases, suggesting he work with a vocal coach to learn proper breathing techniques.

He released his debut album and toured with Slim Dusty

In 1991, Keith Urban released his debut album, which only was available in Australia (but eventually received an international release nearly 15 years later). Issued by EMI Australia, the album — titled simply "Keith Urban" — was received warmly by Australian country music fans. The album also garnered enough attention that Urban landed a coveted spot opening for veteran Aussie country music star Slim Dusty, something of a cultural icon Down Under. 

Interestingly, Urban first met Dusty more than a decade earlier — when he was a young fan who waited in line to meet him, asking the singer to autograph sheet music to his biggest hit, "Lights on the Hill." "I have a lot of memories of Slim," Urban reminisced about Dusty (who died in 2003) in an interview posted on Facebook by the Slim Dusty Centre.

As Urban recalled, the pair was nearing the end of the tour when Urban joyfully pointed out that there were just three more dates to go before it ended. Dusty responded to this with melancholy, saddened that he only had three more opportunities to connect with his fans onstage. The much-younger Urban instantly realized how jaded he had already become, and took away a valuable lesson. "I remember that night so vividly, thinking ... 'That's the attitude to have,'" he said. "His whole thing was about playing, about giving ... that moment really changed the way I looked at touring."

His career took off after he moved to Nashville ... eventually

Keith Urban recognized he could only go so far as a country artist in Australia, and in 1992, he made the move to Nashville, Tennessee. "It instantly felt like home to me," Urban told Rolling Stone. After living in the epicenter of country music for a few years, he eventually became the lead singer of a country-rock band called The Ranch. He figured his big break had arrived when The Ranch signed with Capitol Records, releasing their first — and only — album in 1997. 

"The Ranch was a mess, period, because we were in a s*** van going all over the country playing to three people," Urban recalled to Rolling Stone. "It was soul sucking to the ultimate degree." The album's dismal sales were discouraging, and The Ranch ultimately broke up. While the band may not have made much of a dent in Nashville, the songs that Urban wrote for that album certainly did; "Some Days You Gotta Dance" was recorded by The Chicks, while Steel Magnolia recorded "Homespun Love," and "Walkin' the Country" was featured on the debut album of "American Idol" alum Scotty McCreery.

The same label that signed The Ranch later welcomed Urban aboard their roster as a solo artist. That led to his debut American album, "Keith Urban," in 1999, the first building block in the massively successful music career that followed.

He confronted his issues with substance abuse

Nashville may have sparked his music career, but it was also where Keith Urban was first introduced to cocaine. The struggles he faced in the early years of his career didn't help, nor did getting dumped by a woman because the novelty of his Aussie accent had worn off. "After that, s*** started to really go awry. I stepped up my drinking. I started doing more drugs," Urban admitted to Rolling Stone in 2016. "The whole back end of the '90s were just awful." That's backed up by his former songwriting partner, Vernon Rust, who claimed that Urban once inhaled more than $300,000 worth of the stuff during one particularly aggressive binge.

Urban decided to seek help in 1998 when he checked himself into rehab. "I just realized I'm allergic to it," he joked in a 2022 interview with The Times. "Someone said, 'You have an allergy? What happens when you drink?' And I said, 'I break out in cuffs.'"

While Urban embraced sobriety from that point forward, he experienced a relapse in 2006. In a statement that October, he revealed he was entering a rehab facility and had canceled a number of previously scheduled media appearances. "One can never let one's guard down on recovery, and I'm afraid that I have," he said in his statement (via CBC News). He eventually exited the facility after months of treatment in January 2007.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

He posed for Playgirl but came to regret it

In 2001, Keith Urban was one of Nashville's hottest young rising stars when he appeared on the cover of Playgirl. He also appeared nude in some fairly tame photos within the magazine, with a Fender guitar conveniently covering what would make the photo explicit. 

Years later, Urban was significantly more famous when he appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (via Yahoo), where the topic of his Playgirl spread was brought up. Urban admitted that he hadn't done his homework, and didn't realize what he was stepping into when he agreed to appear in the magazine. "I had never heard of it, quite seriously," he said of the female alternative to Hugh Hefner's Playboy. "There are certain career regrets that I have, and that falls into that category," he joked. "That falls into the what-the-hell-was-I-thinking category — but I'm just glad I play guitar and not harmonica."

Urban subsequently revealed that wife Nicole Kidman was well aware of his past as a pinup, and had given his photos her thumbs up. "Nicole was impressed by the shots," he told New! magazine (via Stuff).

His life changed when he met Nicole Kidman

Keith Urban first met Nicole Kidman in 2005 when they both attended the G'Day USA Gala, an event in LA celebrating the achievements of Australians. They were immediately smitten, and began dating shortly after. When her birthday rolled around in June, Urban made a grand gesture that wound up sealing the deal. "It was my [38th] birthday, and he stood outside with gardenias at 5 a.m. on my stoop in New York," Kidman recounted in an interview with People. "That is when I went, 'This is the man I hope I get to marry.'"

Kidman's hope became reality the following year, as the two tied the knot in June 2006 at a ceremony in Sydney, Australia. The nuptials, which took place in a church atop a cliff overlooking the ocean, were star-studded, boasting a guest list that included Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Naomi Watts, along with Kidman's two children from her marriage to Tom Cruise. Urban performed at the reception, as did Jackman and singer Neil Finn.

The marriage, by all accounts, has been a long and happy one. In fact, Urban came to view his life in terms of before and after he met the love of his life. "Meeting her and getting married wasn't life-changing, it was life-beginning," Urban gushed in an interview with "CBS Sunday Morning." "It was literally like, 'Okay, now life starts.'"

The couple welcomed two daughters

After Keith Urban married Nicole Kidman, the couple didn't wait all that long before starting a family. In July 2008, they welcomed their first child together, daughter Sunday Rose. "We feel immensely blessed and grateful to be given this beautiful baby girl," the new parents shared with People. "She's an absolute delight."

Urban and Kidman expanded their brood even further in December 2010 with the arrival of a second daughter, Faith Margaret. While Kidman had given birth to their first daughter, their second was born via surrogate. Once again, they issued a statement to announce the birth, but this time also shared their thanks to the woman who carried their baby for nine months. "No words can adequately convey the incredible gratitude that we feel for everyone who was so supportive throughout this process, in particular our gestational carrier," they wrote, as reported by People.

Appearing on a 2018 ABC News TV special, "Country Music's Biggest Stars: In the Spotlight with Robin Roberts," Urban expounded on the experience of being the father of two daughters. "I just love being a parent," Urban said, explaining that it was all new to him since he grew up with one brother and no sisters. "So, it's been quite the learning curve in a really good way," he added.

He ventured into television with The Voice and American Idol

In 2011, Urban experienced what has become a rite of passage for music stars by becoming a coach on "The Voice" in Australia, alongside Australian pop star Delta Goodrem, singer Seal, and Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden. Urban exited after just one season, but he wasn't done with TV. 

Fox announced in 2012, that Urban was joining "American Idol" as a judge, part of a cast shakeup in which he, Nicki Minaj, and Mariah Carey joined OG judge Randy Jackson. That particular iteration didn't last, kiboshed by the intense friction between Carey and Minaj. When the show returned, Urban was the sole judge remaining from the previous season. "The fans really liked him," Fox network president Kevin Reilly told reporters, per The Hollywood Reporter. "Keith is a really funny guy." Urban was joined by fellow judges Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr., with the trio sticking around for another season, then returning for the show's 15th and final season.

Urban brought his "Idol" experience full circle when he signed on as a mentor for the 2023 season after the show was revived on ABC. "I had a great time as a judge and being on the show," he told Billboard. "Every season was a blast for me, so to come back and get to mentor and perform as well feels fantastic."

He made a killing selling guitars on HSN

Keith Urban is famed for his fiery six-string solos. He capitalized on that in November 2013 by partnering with the Home Shopping Network (HSN) to launch his own line of guitars. The instrument was sold as part of a package that also included an amplifier, accessories, and an instructional DVD featuring Urban providing guitar lessons.

"For me, learning guitar is kind of monkey see, monkey do," Urban explained to Forbes. "Put this finger on this string. Put this finger on that string. Now strum. That's the way I learned, and that's the way [the DVDs] teach people." The venture proved to be a huge success, with the musician selling out all 20,000 guitars in his limited edition Urban Guitar Collection within hours, reportedly raking in $4 million in sales.

Not surprisingly, he returned the following May with a whole new collection, this one dubbed the "Light the Fuse" series of guitars, coinciding with his tour of the same name. Once again, the collection sold out, beating his previous record by selling 22,000 guitars. Urban was back on HSN in November 2014 with another line of guitars, the "Night Star" series.

His TV return as a 'mega mentor' on The Voice

Urban's experience on "The Voice Australia" came in handy in 2024, when he was tapped by NBC's American version of the show. This time, he wasn't one of the coaches sitting in those swiveling red chairs, but brought aboard as a "mega mentor," to assist the singers who managed to make it through the show's Battle Rounds. 

As Urban explained in an interview with Billboard, he has never found one-size-fits-all advice to be that valuable to the show's contestants, preferring a more individual mentorship that takes each singer's unique talents into consideration. "You have to meet each artist where they're at," he said, dismissing the typical advice telling aspiring stars to make various changes. "Sometimes, you don't have to change anything at all. You have to keep working and make a better version of what already is."

One thing that Urban has learned from doling out all those suggestions to singers? To take a look at himself to make sure he's following his own advice. "I end up helping myself too because I'm like, 'Okay, well if you're going to preach it, make sure you practice it as well,'" he told People. "It's a bit of accountability as well."

Urban was rumored to be behind an infamous Instagram account

In 2021, an Australian Instagram account launched that took a grammatical approach to reporting on celebrities; Celeb Spellcheck, which corrected the spelling and grammar errors made by stars in their social media posts. At the time, rumors swirled about who was behind the snarky account, with media reports at one point suspecting a pair of Sydney publicists.

In March 2024, another rumor emerged: that the spelling-obsessed mastermind behind the account was none other than Keith Urban. As the Daily Mail reported, a different celebrity-focused Instagram account, Aussie Influencer Opinions, responded to a question from a follower, who asked, "Do you think it's true that Keith Urban is celeb spellcheck?" The account responded, "100%."

The rumor became so widespread that Aussie Influencer Opinions posted a screenshot of a TikTok search for the word "Keith," with the phrase "Keith Urban Celeb Spellcheck" ranking second. Urban hasn't commented, and it's likely the whole thing was either pure sarcasm, or simply a clever — and successful — gambit to bring attention to the Aussie Influencer Opinions Instagram account.