Whatever Happened To Hunter Hayes?

Back in the early 2010s, Hunter Hayes was the new darling of the Nashville music scene. Released when he was just 17, his single "Wanted" made him the youngest ever solo male artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Both his eponymous major label debut and follow-up "Storyline" also enjoyed chart-topping success. And he even picked up a prestigious Best New Artist nod at the Grammy Awards.

But the music industry can be a fickle beast. Indeed, the Louisiana native, who'd first found fame as a young musical prodigy, struggled to sustain this remarkable run throughout the rest of the decade. Indeed, if VH1's "Where Are They Now" was still on air, Hayes would be a prime candidate.

So what has the once-dominant singer-songwriter been up to since he faded from view? From astronaut cosplay and dating show serenades to mental health issues and unusual hobbies, here's a look.

He played an astronaut on The Masked Singer

In 2019, Hunter Hayes was cast alongside both the sublime (Chaka Khan, Dionne Warwick) and the ridiculous (Sarah Palin, Bret Michaels) on the third season of Fox's fever dream talent show, "The Masked Singer." And he acquitted himself well while trying to showcase his vocal skills dressed as an astronaut, reaching Week 12 before being revealed.

Hayes performed One Direction's "Story of My Life" in his elimination week and appeared to have the time of his life on the prime-time hit. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly following his exit, the singer-songwriter advised any other famous faces thinking of signing up to go for it: "Do it and just make sure you're having fun. It is a competition, but the reason that I was really excited about it was that it's not a competition about technicality. It's about individuality. I think that's why it's been such success."

The hitmaker also no doubt gave aspiring contestants a few ideas about how to fool their way onto the show. Turns out Hayes has a fear which could have deterred producers from giving him the gig: "I've had experiences where I have zero problem being in a confined space but I've also had, like, mild panic attacks being in confined spaces. But I didn't want them to know that. I won't say I lied, but I didn't really tell them about the potential for claustrophobia."

Hunter Hayes went pop

Following in the footsteps of Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, and LeAnn Rimes, Hunter Hayes went from country music to pure pop in 2023 with his fifth studio effort, "Red Sky." And he assembled a dream team of producers and songwriters to help him make that tricky transition.

Indeed, Dan Brook (Britney Spears), Alex Delicata (Beyoncé), and Rollo (BTS) were just a few of the behind-the-scenes names that Hayes called upon for his first independently released studio effort in 12 years. But in an interview with Melodic Magazine to promote the record, Hayes insisted that he wasn't trying to alienate the fan base he'd built up during the previous decade.

The Grammy Award nominee said, "In explaining what I'm doing now, it's like, I haven't really changed what I'm doing. I'm just letting you hear all of the stuff that got shelved for years. I'm letting you hear all of the other things that excite me as well as the core thing of what I do ... The way the album is structured it goes from very familiar sounding to, 'Ok, now here is the fun stuff that we haven't gotten to do yet.'"

The singer has become an honorary member of Hunter Brothers

As well as working on his own material, Hunter Hayes has also been busy in the studio honing his skills as a producer. In 2020, he collaborated with Canadian country music outfit Hunter Brothers on their single "Hard Dirt." And they must have been happy with the results, as a year later he also worked on their track "Been a Minute."

In fact, Hayes has essentially become an honorary member of the namesake outfit, as the group explained to Canadian Beats in 2021: "Working with Hunter Hayes was a dream come true for us. We actually have a group chat now called 'All The Hunters' and it was one of those circumstances that felt like our paths crossed for a very specific reason."

And the gushing didn't stop there, either, with the siblings going on to describe Hayes as a visionary and one of the most creative individuals they've ever met: "He hears music in a way that few people do, and on top of that is insanely talented. He had a way of getting into some of the deepest spaces of our vocals and bringing out the authenticity that was beneath the surface."

Hunter Hayes has been embracing self-care

Having experienced chart-topping, Grammy-nominated success while he was still a teenager, and then experiencing the fickle nature of fame, too, Hunter Hayes has perhaps inevitably had issues with his mental health. Luckily, the singer-songwriter now has several coping mechanisms to rely upon.

In a 2023 interview with Wondermind, the "Somebody's Heartbreak" singer revealed that he returned to therapy during the early stages of the pandemic, having previously undergone sessions during his early years. And he now tries to talk things out twice a week when his work commitments allow. Hayes also told the magazine that sensory deprivation tanks, acupuncture, and hitting the road in a droptop are regular parts of his self-care routine.

A year earlier, the Louisiana native was announced as an ambassador for One Mind, a nonprofit specializing in brain health. In a statement, Hayes said how proud he was to take on such a role: "It's important to me to expand the dialog around mental health in order to reduce stigmas and bring light to the topic, while creating a safe space for others to share their own experiences."

You won't find the singer-songwriter on a dating app

In 2018, after approximately four years together, Hunter Hayes and fellow musician Libby Barnes went their separate ways. The country star hasn't been linked with anyone since, although in 2020 he revealed to ET that he was now once again looking for that special someone.

However, he certainly wasn't looking on Tinder. Two years later, Hayes told Audacity Check In that he much preferred to let nature take its course: "I haven't done any apps because I just don't think that's my vibe. I'm trusting in the universe. I think I'm aligning myself to where and who I want to be. I've been letting go, so I feel like my time is coming."

But the "Yesterday's Song" hitmaker isn't totally averse to the world of online matchmaking. In 2021, he braved a Zoom-based speed dating game for iHeart Country. And living up to his nice guy reputation, Hayes picked all four contestants as winners.

You also won't see him joining in the political discourse

The country music world seems more politically divisive than ever, particularly in a time when both Jason Aldean and Oliver Anthony have topped the Hot 100 in the same year. But there's at least one Nashville favorite who has little interest in upsetting either side of the political spectrum.

When asked about the first time he was angered by a politician by GQ in 2021, Hunter Hayes appeared determined to stay as neutral as possible, saying, "I don't like having political conversations because I feel like everyone has a point to make and everybody should be heard." The "Invisible" singer did hint at a distrust of Donald Trump, though, adding, "My problem is when you use your platform to turn people against each other and the first time I saw that was after our current president got elected."

Hayes expanded on his "why we can't all just get along" approach when asked about the changes he'd make if he was the POTUS: "I would start working on unity and trying to bridge the gap somehow. There is so much divisiveness and that comes from history and is how powerful people become powerful in a lot of cases, by promoting polarizing ideas. I would start by having a meeting with my cabinet and trying to fix the way we talk about things and the way we treat other people."

Hunter Hayes is enjoying touring for the first time

Hunter Hayes has launched several headlining tours over the years including 2011's "Most Wanted," 2014's "Tattoo (Your Name)," and 2019's "Closer to You," while also providing support for the likes of Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Lady A. But it was only in 2023, more than a decade after he first hit the road, that the country star began to enjoy performing live.

Discussing the series of dates to promote his independently released fifth studio effort, "Red Sky," Hayes told CBS 58, "This new tour has been very life-giving and rewarding ... This is the first tour I have actually gotten to enjoy myself. I've had fun on each tour, but this is a new kind of connection with people that are coming to the show."

It was a sentiment echoed in a chat with Riff magazine earlier that same year. Referring to the same trek which kicked off in San Diego and ended in Denver, Hayes said, "My spirit lives for touring. I started building the show months ago and I've been working with three different tour designers to create a show that really allows me to show up as me and be vulnerable and connect with people."

The star has moved to Malibu

Having shifted millions of albums and been streamed millions of times, Hunter Hayes can no doubt set up home wherever he wants. And although he still has a place in the birthplace of country music — Nashville — the "Tattoo" singer has recently decided that Malibu is the ideal location.

Giving People a tour of the property he calls Little Pilot Lodge, Hayes explained in 2023, "I kept telling myself that I didn't want to get a place there, so I did Airbnb for a little bit and then I found this place and I was like, 'I have to have it.' I couldn't live without it. If I'm being honest, this is something I dreamed about for almost 10 years now."

And the Grammy Award nominee believes the cabin-style house, which boasts several recording studios and spectacular mountainside views, has also had a positive otherworldly effect on his musical output: "Mystical things happen here. There's a lot of music that's been made in this part of California. There's something about being out here that doesn't make me think of the business part of what I do out here. I just feel creative and alive, and it feels like a musical vacation."

Hunter Hayes is a dog daddy

Take a look at Hunter Hayes' Instagram account and you'll spot almost as many photos of his adorable canine friend as studio photos, tour snaps, and backstage meetings. Yes, although the country singer doesn't yet have any children, he is the proud "dad" to two adorable pooches.

While giving People a tour of his cabin-style property in Malibu, Hayes joked that the real master of the house was his therapy dog named Cole. And it seems as though the greyhound constantly keeps the "Everybody's Got Somebody But Me" hitmaker on his toes: "He's 11, but he's the youngest he's ever been, spiritually. They told me when I adopted him that racing greyhounds tend to get younger as they get older, that their puppy side comes out, and it has."

Hayes also has a whippet-beagle mix named Ella who has put him through his paces, as he explained to GQ: "She was very anxious when I got her and wanted nothing to do with people and now she's my shadow and loves people. I had to learn a lot about myself to get her to that place. If anything, our growth as pals has mirrored a lot of things I have learned about myself, such as patience and understanding."

His new voice

Listen to Hunter Hayes' 2011 eponymous debut album and his 2023 fifth LP "Red Sky" and you'll no doubt notice a difference in the country star's timbre. And it's not just down to age, either. In 2016, the singer decided to start seeing a voice coach to combat the various problems he'd faced with his vocal cords.

In an interview with Rolling Stone a year later, Hayes explained why he had to take such measures: "I went through a massive voice change that I didn't know I was going through in the past three years. So I was singing through it, along with chronic allergies and terrible acid reflux. And all kinds of things I didn't know about that I'm still trying to treat and fight."

Hayes went on to reveal that his voice coach sessions have helped him to avoid old habits and improve his mental health, too. He explained that when his voice isn't up to par, it's "crushing in the most heavy way possible. It flipped me upside down more times than I care to talk about, which is why it was that much more important for me to go ahead of it and say I refuse to go down without a fight. It's been a huge weight lifted."

Embracing the digital age

You might not expect a country singer to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology. But in 2018, Hunter Hayes teamed up with Google to create a pioneering 360-degree video for the single "Yesterday's Song" using the latest developments in virtual reality. And the Grammy award nominee believes that such equipment has a big future in the music industry.

Speaking to CNET about the collaboration, Hayes said, "VR has a huge role to play in so many different avenues of music, whether it's the live concert experience or a more intimate concert where you can't fit more than 10 people in the room. An endless amount of people can feel like they were in the room." He added that he expects to see more experimental output from creatives who think outside of a fixed box.

Hayes is no stranger to the creative uses of tech, having penned the entirety of his self-titled 2011 debut album using his iPhone's Notes app. He added, "The amount of stuff we can fit in the palm of our hand still remains one of my favorite advances because it keeps getting better and it keeps getting more intuitive and it helps in the creative aspect."

He appeared on The Bachelor

In 2020, Hunter Hayes showed up in an episode of ABC's long-running flagship dating show "The Bachelor." But don't worry: The country singer hadn't suddenly made an unlikely detour into the world of reality TV. Well, not as a contestant anyway. The star was only there to help serenade one of Peter Weber's many dates.

Hayes performed "I Want Crazy," an appropriately titled song choice according to some viewers, for Weber and Victoria F. as they enjoyed some alone time in the latter's hometown of Virginia Beach. The multi-instrumentalist later told hosts Ali Fedotowsky and Rachel Lindsay on the podcast "Bachelor Happy Hour" that he believed the pair was a match made in heaven: "Honestly, again being the guy who was flying totally blind, it felt like they'd known each other for years. It really felt like they'd known each other for a long time. It didn't feel forced or anything like that. Honestly, it kind of freaked me out at first."

Sadly, the Grammy award nominee's dulcet tones didn't fully work their magic. The Season 24 bachelor ended up proposing to model Hannah Ann Sluss before going on to date Madison Prewett and Kelley Flanagan.

Warning about drunk driving

In 2019, Hunter Hayes tried to use his role model status for the greater good when he teamed up with the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Ad Council for a PSA series about drink-driving.

In various clips inspired by one of his own singles, the country singer can be seen warning the youth of America about the dangers of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. He said (via Sounds of Nashville), "Just like in my song 'One Shot,' once you start drinking you don't always make the best decisions. That's why I know my buzzed warning signs. When I see one of these signs, I call a car or a friend instead of getting behind the wheel."

You might not necessarily equate clean-cut boy-next-door Hayes with hard-drinking. But in "One Shot," Hayes unapologetically declares his love of hitting the liquor: "It starts with one shot to have a good time/Everybody knows how easy one can turn into five/But don't judge me 'cause it ain't nobody's life but mine/And I only get one shot."

Hunter Hayes has become a Lego master

Don't be surprised if you see Hunter Hayes living his best life on a future edition of "Celebrity Lego Masters." For the country music singer has become obsessed with one of Denmark's finest cultural exports.

In a 2023 interview with Wondermind, the Grammy award nominee revealed that he's been using the toy bricks as a way of combating stress and anxiety: "I've gotten back into building Legos lately just because it's a way for me to feel like I'm accomplishing something — I'm building a piece of art — but I also don't have to make it up. I can follow the instructions."

Speaking to GQ that same year, the "Wild Card" hitmaker also revealed that he's been drawing parallels between Lego and his showbiz career: "When I first moved to Nashville, I just wanted to build the picture on the box and do what I thought I was supposed to do and then, over time, I realized I had all of these pieces and I could build whatever I wanted. If I could tell my younger self anything it would be to focus on that."