Unlike the new season of American Idol which featured supersized coverage of the audition process, Nashville Star chose to go in the exact opposite direction this year. Season 3 opens by skipping the auditions completely and plunging us straight into the awesome responsibility of crushing a contestant’s lifelong dream based on a single impression. This is a bit of a bummer from an entertainment point of view as well, as one of my favorite parts of the previous seasons was meeting the nutty families that produced these would-be superstars. But onward we go…
There is a whole new cast to meet. County superstar LeAnn Rimes takes over the host slot from Nancy O’Dell, while singer/songwriter Phil Vassar, music producer Anastasia Brown, and ex-Poison lead-singer-turned-country-crooner Bret Michaels now occupy the judges’ seats.
To kick off the season premiere, LeAnn takes to the stage and belts out “You Take Me Home”. My husband happens to wander into the room in the middle of her song and is astonished by the talent of this “contestant”. You can just about hear the real contestants shaking in their boots backstage at the thought of following this act.
And here they are! Out of the 10 finalists, first up is Casey Simpson, a self-proclaimed “ghetto cowgirl” from Los Angeles. She chose the Keith Urban song “Love Somebody Like You” and sang it strong, kicking the competition off on a high note. The only distraction was that she appeared to be wearing a backwards apron over her jeans, but hey, I’ll chalk that up to first time wardrobe nerves. Anastasia says she “nailed it” but needs to loosen up in future performances, Phil says it was a great way to kick off the evening, and Bret says she has what it takes, the “it” factor.
Second to take the stage is Jody Evans. It seems every singing competition now needs its friendly nerd, a la Clay Aiken, and Jody is our adorable geek for this evening. He appears to be going for a retro Opry look in coat and tie and acoustic guitar, but he gets crankin’ into such a high gear on “Three Nickels and a Dime” that he blows one of the strings on his guitar. Overall, a solid vocal performance with bonus points for unflappable enthusiasm. Phil says “he looks like my agent” but did really good, Anastasia says “you’re rockin’”, and Bret says he has both the energy and the attitude.
Last season, there was some discussion over whether or not a Canadian (George Canyon) could or should win Nashville Star, and as it turned out, he did not. Hopefully the bias that country music should only be born in the USA will not affect Australian Tamika Tyler, who turned in an amazing vocal performance on “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am”. The performance prompts Anastasia to blurt out one of the odder comments of the night “If I were a man, I’d propose to you!”. Bret says she has a voice he could listen to all night, and Phil says he loves the accent and the legs, and the singing blew him away too.
Next at bat is Josh Owen, who reminds me of a country version of Shawn Cassidy. He tackles Waylon’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” and does what I would consider an OK rendition, but not the best we’ve seen tonight. The uber-positive Bret calls it an “awesome job”, Anastasia says he needs to connect with the audience more, and Phil politely says he is looking forward to seeing him rock in future performances.
Christy McDonald gets the over-enthusiasm award for the evening, and possibly also the over-singing award. She actually has an OK voice, but she made an odd song choice for her style with “Long Black Train”. Anastasia calls her “so adorable”, Phil jokes that she needs to loosen up, and Bret says she made him want to party (not hard to do, I would imagine).
With 5 singers down and 5 to go, we take a break and travel backstage with correspondent Cletus T. Judd, who does a plug for the Gaylord Opryland Resort and its yummy booze-filled minibars. He then proceeds to call every female in a 3 mile radius “Sweetie”. Thankfully, the “comedy” is brief and we quickly return to the music.
Jason Meadows packages himself as a genuine cowboy, complete with video footage of him herding cattle. He sings Merle Haggard’s “Workin’Man” and shows off a solid voice. Bret accompanies him on air guitar from the judges’ stand. Phil says “a little Haggard ain’t gonna hurt nobody”, Anastasia says “I love your voice; don’t soften your jeans, just your delivery”, and Bret claims he also displays the “it” factor.
Up next is the youngest contestant in the competition, high school student Erika Jo, who was spotted backstage doing her homework before performing. She takes a bit of a chance on song selection with ”Break Down Here” and does a really superb version of it. Bret says she’s gonna be a big star, Anastasia says she has a beautiful voice, but she should try to lose herself in the music more next time, and Phil says she did a heck of job.
I thought Erika would be a tough one to follow, but Jenny Farrell takes the stage and starts off really strong with “Seven Year Ache”. Unfortunately she suddenly starts omitting every other word, then stops singing all together, takes one last look at the camera, and goes sprinting off stage where she loses her lunch. LeAnn bounces back onto the stage to hint to us that it might not be nerves, that Jenny may actually have a wee bit of food poisoning going on. This is a little extra excitement for the viewers, but it’s clearly a bad break for Jenny, especially as it looked like it was going to be another top-tier performance. The judges do not give comments, and we are hurried along to the next contestant.
Just when I think I know who my favorites will be tonight, Jayron Weaver takes the stage. He is a plain vanilla looking guy who turns out to possess a big and interesting voice and nails “I’m Already There”. Phil says what a great singer he is, Anastasia says she loves his voice but he needs to look at the audience next time, and Bret says he picked a tough song but nailed it.
Tonight’s caboose is Justin David singing “Ring of Fire”. He played the mandolin with flair, but I thought his vocals were only OK. It certainly didn’t help being last in a night where the bar was set impressively high. Anastasia says his performance made her toes curl, Phil said he sounded great, and Bret praised his song selection.
This episode made me really glad I am not seeking a record contract in Nashville myself, because there is clearly an awful lot of talent out there chasing the dream. My favorites from this week are Tamika Tyler, Erika Jo, and Jayron Weaver, and I would say the folks most at risk for being sent home are Josh Owen and Justin David, and unfortunately also the likable but ill Jenny Farrell.
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