Many music stars who have made it big will tell you that performing is in their blood: They grew up surrounded by it, breathe it; it’s all they’ve wanted to do. It’s certainly true of country music star Keith Urban, who was born in New Zealand but was raised for the majority of his childhood in Australia.
With his parents’ support, including key costume influences from his dad, Keith Urban began winning singing competitions before age 10. Eventually, that stage practice would land him in the spotlight he’s enjoying now.
Keith Urban got his first guitar at age 6
Though Urban might have paved his own road to becoming the country music icon he is today, his parents encouraged his early interest in music — often playing country artists like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Glen Campbell in their home. His first instrument was a ukulele at age 4, and two years later his parents gifted him his first guitar, according to Rolling Stone.
He was in eighth grade when he won the lead in his school production of Oliver! and got a taste of the fame that attracts girlfriends and fans alike, though by then he’d been playing in music competitions, too. By 15, he dropped out of school to pursue a career in music full time, playing any small stage that would have him.
Keith Urban’s dad made his performance outfits
Around age 8, a young Urban began entering — and winning — singing competitions, according to Britannica. It was from that era that Today show host Jenna Bush Hager dug up a picture of Urban, clad in white pants and a jacket. The jacket featured a red heart near the collar, and the pants had red embroidered stars and other features.
“I still have that outfit,” Urban said on Today. “My dad used to make my clothes. He came up with that design and put on all the embroidery and stuff.” The “You’ll Think of Me” artist likened the outfit design to classic Americana garb, reminiscent of performers like singer-songwriter Gram Parsons from the 1960s and ‘70s.
Hager asked Urban if he’d imagined at that age what his life would become. Though Urban said it wasn’t clearly defined, he knew he wanted his future to include music. “I just wanted to come to America and make music and tour. That’s all I wanted to do. That was it,” Urban said. “It was a pretty broad-strokes dream. No timeline, no plan, nothing. I just knew it would happen one day if I just stayed focused.”
Keith Urban had a complicated relationship with his dad
Urban’s father, Robert, takes up a complex space in the country music star’s life. Robert was a drummer, though he didn’t play professionally, and with his wife, Marienne, encouraged his son’s music career. Robert was also an alcoholic, though, and a strict disciplinarian, according to another Rolling Stone interview.
“[I would ask myself] is my dad sort of being a good disciplinarian or is this a bit excessive? Or I don’t know. What’s normal?” Keith Urban asked.
Witnessing his father’s relationship with alcohol made it take longer to see his own issues with substance abuse later in life, too. “It took me a long time to get sober,” Urban elaborated in the 2021 profile. “Took me a long time to recognize my alcoholism. A long time because I didn’t drink like my dad, so I compared everything to him…But I was able to finally make the right choice in my life, that I wish my dad would have made.”
Urban’s turning point came just before his 40th birthday in 2006, when his wife Nicole Kidman staged an intervention just four months into their marriage. He has been sober since.