Luke Bryan never expected being a judge on American Idol to affect him the way it has. The country star confesses that his role on the TV singing competition has made him a better parent — and left him caring about many of the Idol hopefuls he sees perform.

"I didn’t realize that when I signed up for this that I would lay in bed at night wondering about these kids and praying for their well-being," Bryan tells People. “Being the fatherly figure, I’ve learned that there are many struggles kids are going through these days.”

Bryan and his wife, Caroline, are the parents of two sons — Bo, 11, and Tate, 9 — as well as the guardians of their nephew Til and two nieces, Jordan and Kris. The Bryans have been looking after the now-adults since Bryan's sister, their mother, and brother-in-law, their father, died.

“I have my way I raise my kids, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to have mental-health problems," the superstar admits. "This show has taught me a broader view of what kids are dealing with in society. I just relish the opportunity to mentor these kids and mentor them through this crazy journey."

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In fact, Bryan's own life hardships — losing both his brother and his sister and brother-in-law — have helped him form a bond with some of the American Idol contestants, many of whom have their own stories of struggle. "I see myself in some of these kids," Bryan says.

“You just have to trust in God’s plan. You wake up every day and go, ‘I’ve had unfortunate things in my life. I just have to trust that that’s how God wanted it,'" he reflects. "That’s how I cope. Sometimes I cope well, but sometimes life does get me down ...

“Going forward, I just have to try and keep it real and appreciate every day, appreciate where I’m at in my career and hopefully honor my family by my actions,” the star continues. “The beauty with my losses in my life is that my career has been a bright spot. My family and I have had so many wonderful moments because of my success."

A new season of American Idol will premiere on Sunday (Feb. 16) on ABC. Bryan's fellow judges are Lionel Richie and Katy Perry.

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