Luke Bryan had to be rushed off the red carpet at last year's Kennedy Center Honors to avoid a meeting with the night's guest of honour Lionel Richie.

Bryan had been drafted in to surprise his fellow American Idol judge and pal at the tribute, and the soul man had no idea the country star would be there.

So when Lionel arrived early, organisers had to cut Luke's time on the red carpet and bundle him backstage.

"We were on set for Idol trying to get the logistics of getting me to Kennedy Center to honour Lionel without him knowing," Luke tells WENN. "I'm around this man and I know I'm gonna be a part of this secret.

"We get to Washington, D.C. and I felt important because people were hiding me the whole time!

"One of the most memorable moments of the night was me getting to do the red carpet and I'm going to give my first pitch about how honoured I am to honour Lionel and they're like, 'Get off the carpet! He's here!' They were running me around and I literally stand outside the bathroom for about 30 minutes because Lionel is out there hamming it up on the carpet.

"It was fun surprising him."

All the effort worked, because Richie was stunned when his new friend stepped up onstage to perform his song Penny Lover.

"I never thought I would have Luke Bryant sing my song," Lionel adds. "I was crying while he's singing it."

It was a very emotional night for the Hello singer, and he admits he sobbed for most of it: "They started playing the clips of past recipients and I looked in the audience and saw my kids looking up at me," he recalls. "A guy told me when I was walking out onto the stage to prepare to cry and I'm like, 'I'm never gonna cry'. But I couldn't hold back the tears.

"I was more proud of the fact that my kids were there to see me. I flew in five of my classmates from preschool, elementary school, high school and college... They were crying. You always dream that life can be this, but until it happens to you, you can never really believe it's happening."