Blake Shelton is lucky to have some very close friends in his life, and in a new interview with People magazine, he says he values them more and more as he gets older.

“I find that as time goes by, my definition of a hero changes. My heroes have started to become my good friends,” Shelton says, adding, “You start to find out, the older you get — I guess we all do — that a really good friend is a pretty rare thing to have in your life. That person. I’ve gotta say that the handful of really close friends that I have, those are my heroes. They’re the ones that will just drop everything to be there for you if they need to be. I hold them high."

As far as musical heroes go, there's one name that's especially important to Shelton. He lists Earl Thomas Conley as someone who's both a friend and a primary influence, admitting that he listened to the singer obsessively when he first moved to Nashville, trying to learn to sing like him. Later on, Conley helped Shelton write his second single, "All Over Me."

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Shelton got the chance to repay Conley for his friendship and influence at the 2014 CMA Awards, when he won Male Vocalist of the Year. He was surprised to realize Conley had somehow never won the award.

“I just assumed that surely he must have," Shelton reflects, "because he’s my favorite, he has to be the winner, right? That night I happened to win Male Vocalist of the Year, and so I mentioned his name on stage and dedicated the award to him. He’s just an incredible vocalist and, I feel like, underrated.”

He received a text from his friend and hero later that night, thanking him for his words.

“He said it had been a lot of years since he had heard his name mentioned from that stage,” Shelton says.

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