Charles Esten, who plays recovering alcoholic singer Deacon Claybourne on the TV show Nashville, has rubbed elbows with some of the biggest celebrities in the world. But the actor says that he has never been quite as starstruck as when he met country music icon Reba McEntire.

"There were a couple seasons, a couple years, where we had a friend or two in common, and yet I was not getting the chance to meet Reba," Esten recalls to The Boot. "I would be on the opposite side of a room and not able to get away long enough to say hello. Finally, last Christmas, it was through [Rascal Flatts'] Jay DeMarcus, I got to meet Reba. And when I finally did, it was like we had known each other for a long time."

The TV star can't say enough about McEntire.

"That’s the kind of grace she carries herself with ... She made me feel utterly welcome and a part of this town," Esten muses. "I sort of run out of words for Reba, because she’s where icon meets tender human being. She’s as big as it gets, but she’s as personal and caring as it gets. Somehow I think those two things don’t go hand in hand, but what I find again and again is that they actually really do.

"It’s people who are maybe trying to be the icon [who] have trouble with the other part, but the people who carry it the way she does, seemingly so effortlessly, I know there’s got to be a lot of effort there," he continues. "She’s not only been helpful to our show, and kind to our show, and a part of our show, but also to me personally."

Esten is looking for inspiration from McEntire and other country stars as he works on his own solo project.

"That is definitely a dream, and something I have to make not just a dream," the 50-year-old reveals of his record. "My focus has always been to do my very, very best on the show. You have to dance with who brought you, and the show brought me, so I want to be the best part of it I can, not just for the acting, but for the music."

Esten gets plenty of time to perform on Nashville, but he acknowledges that singing as a solo artist is a scary endeavor for him.

"Making my own music and stepping up to the plate, and finally putting something out, that’s a little bit daunting," he admits. "For years I’ve been able to say other people’s words, sing other people’s songs, say it the way they directed me. So when you do make an album, it’s a little bit like, 'Here I am, this is me, this is what I want to put out.' It’s easy to overthink and easy to slow down at the plate, but it’s time to move forward on that. I hope to have something out before the season’s done."

Nashville will return on March 16 at 10PM ET on ABC.

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