Chris Young doesn’t consider himself much of a crier.
Heck, the country star, known for hits such as “Losing Sleep” and “Hangin’ On,” has been able to sing plenty of sad songs throughout his impressive career without breaking down. And during the handful of times he has already sung his new song “Drowning” as part of his current arena and amphitheater headlining tour, he has never let the tears fall.
But that all changed last week.
“I thought I was okay at the end of the first chorus, but by verse two, I knew I was in trouble,” Young, 34, recalls to PEOPLE about his emotional performance at the Grand Ole Opry on June 6. “I tried my best to pull myself together, but I just couldn’t. And then the audience all stood up and started applauding, and that was it. I couldn’t finish the song.”
Anchored by soul-shattering lyrics such as “missing you comes in waves and tonight I’m drowning,” “Drowning” tells the all-too-real story of missing that special someone that left this world far too soon for our own liking.
“Everyone can relate to it in one way or another,” the singer tells PEOPLE.
But for Young, it’s personal.
You see, the tears Young shed during that fateful performance at the Grand Ole Opry are the same tears he’s been holding in since the day he lost his dear friend Adam as the result of a car accident.
“Adam used to drive over and sit with me in the parking lot of Nashville Star,” recalls Young about the days in which cameras followed his seemingly every move while filming the reality television competition back in 2006. “I met Adam after high school.”
“We had everyone convinced that we were brothers,” he adds with a laugh. “We got to know each other’s families really well.”
And then, Adam was gone.
“I had never written anything about it,” Young says, his voice trailing off.
But during a writing session with longtime collaborators Corey Crowder and Josh Hoge, Young said he found himself thinking about Adam, and the lyrics literally started falling out of his broken heart.
“The song is still very open-ended, because we wanted to make sure that it was a song that really anyone could relate to,” Young says. “But yes, it’s definitely my way to pay tribute to Adam.”
After the emotionally charged performance of “Drowning” last week, countless fans began heading to social media to share just how much the song and Young’s performance of the song meant to them.
“I was a little surprised how quickly it went viral,” says Young, who made the decision to release the song to all digital and streaming outlets Friday. “I had friends coming up to me talking about it, and it just started taking on a life of its own. I’ve never experienced something like this.”
The song also offers yet another peek at the music that is still to come off of Young’s upcoming album Raised on Country, which is set for release later this year. The title track of the album is currently approaching the Top 10 on the charts.
“There are so many great songs on this record,” says Young, who also used last week’s CMA Fest as the perfect opportunity to perform the song “This Town Ain’t Big Enough” with duet partner Lauren Alaina. “It’s arguably one of the best records I have ever written and I love that people are starting to get to hear it.”
But when it comes to “Drowning,” Young simply hopes Adam is listening.
“I think he would be proud of it,” Young says quietly. “I did hear from his family — they loved it and they appreciated me honoring his memory with this song. And yeah, that makes me feel great.”
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