After performing for Queen Elizabeth, former President George Bush, and on a hit television show, Charles Esten is adding another check to his bucket list — hosting the CMT Awards.
The star of the network’s show Nashville will take the stage Wednesday to host the fan-voted awards ceremony honoring the biggest names in country music this year.
“I’m very excited,” Esten, 51, tells PEOPLE. “I’ve gotten to present, attend a couple [of the award shows], but to host it wasn’t something I expected. I was honored, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Esten has a special connection with the network as it decided to pick up Nashville in its fifth season after ABC failed to renew the show. He credits the many fans who made their voice heard on social media.
“We could not have been more grateful,” Esten says. “It doesn’t surprise me that CMT is the one with the fan voting because they care about their fans. This is a party where you’re celebrating the artists and the fans and that connection.”
“For me, I feel very fortunate to be right in the middle of that party.”
To prepare for his hosting duties, Esten is working with a team of writers but knows he’ll have to be ready for anything that comes his way when it comes time for the show.
“I guess that’s where the improv background can come in handy,” he laughs. “Hopefully it won’t be too needed.”
Along with being excited for the “whole party,” Esten is most looking forward to seeing the touching tribute planned for the late legendary Allman Brothers co-founder Gregg Allman, who died on May 27 at age 69.
“I think it’s going to be something very special and he certainly deserves it,” Esten says. “The impact that he has had on the artists in country music — there’s really no overstating it. I know how much this community felt that loss.”
Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley will join forces for the tribute to Allman.
“I did not get to know him but like everybody else, I was just astonished by his music,” Esten says. “That’s the thing about music, you don’t need to know somebody to have it be personal.”
Other artists set to perform at the show include Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, and Brett Eldredge. The Chainsmokers and Florida Georgia Line will team up, and Lady Antebellum is slated to perform with the legendary Earth, Wind & Fire. Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood will also perform live together — a first for the duo on any CMT stage.
Even after the awards are over, Esten will be keeping busy as the first artist to release 52 consecutive songs in his ongoing #EverySingleFriday initiative, and he will embark on a global tour with the cast of Nashville — where he’s honored to say he’ll be “bringing love” to the Manchester Arena.
The 2017 CMT Music Awards will air live from Nashville on CMT TOMORROW, June 7 at 8:00 p.m. EST.