Used with permission of CMA Closeup News Service
By Ed Morris
"Nashville Star," the popular USA Network television talent search, is now in its third season of spinning straw into Gold records. At least that's the aim.
The 2005 edition of the nine-week series, which began airing March 1, has a new host, correspondent and judges, a new record-company affiliate and, as might be expected, some new rules of play. One element remains constant though - the nail-biting possibility that any week, your favorite contestant might be voted off the show and back to obscurity.
During the first two seasons, the top winners each earned a recording contract with Sony Music Nashville's Columbia or Epic record labels and a songwriting contract with Sony's music publishing division (Sony ATV/Tree). This year, Universal South Records will release the winner's debut album. No built-in songwriting deal is involved now, although one episode will require the contestants to sing their own songs.
One of the biggest changes from the two previous seasons is that this year's contestants are not living together in the same house during the contest. In place of these domestic scenes, a spokeswoman for the series said, "There is more onstage performance and excitement."
While talent shows tend to be heavy on the razzle-dazzle, "Nashville Star" is demonstrably more than smoke, mirrors and breathless theme music. The show's first winner, Buddy Jewell, did indeed "go Gold" with his self-titled Columbia Records debut album and garnered a 2003 CMA Horizon Award nomination. And he is scheduled to perform his new single on the April 5 episode of "Nashville Star."
Second runner up Miranda Lambert released her first (and largely self-written by writing or co-writing 11 of the 12 tracks) Epic Records CD, Kerosene, in March to considerable praise and first week sales of more than 40,000. Lambert has done what only five other Country artists in the history of Nielsen SoundScan have ever done by earning a No. 1 Billboard Top Country Albums chart debut on their very first album. She joins an elite club consisting of Wynonna (1992), Billy Ray Cyrus (1992), Jewell[/link"> (2003) and Gretchen Wilson (2004).
This season's host is Curb Records Platinum-selling songbird LeAnn Rimes, someone who knows a thing or two about the winding staircase to stardom. Last year, she dipped her toe in the contest water by performing on the grand finale. Apart from her hosting duties, Rimes is currently promoting her latest album, This Woman.
"LeAnn is a superstar whose presence grounds the show firmly in its Nashville Country Music roots," explained Jeff Boggs, who joins Ben Silverman and H.T. Owens as Executive Producers this season. "As 'Nashville Star' grows in popularity, we must continue to feed it creatively with big name talent that will inspire our Country Music hopefuls."
"As a singer and songwriter, I have great admiration for many of the budding stars who come out to try their hand at performing," Rimes said. "I can relate to the hopes and aspirations of all the contestants."
The new judges are singer-songwriter Phil Vassar, rock 'n' Country artist Bret Michaels and talent handler/music executive Anastasia Brown. Vassar isn't exactly new to "Nashville Star." He made a guest appearance on one of the last shows of the 2003 season, pairing with finalist Brandon Silveira for a version of his own "Just Another Day In Paradise." Vassar's latest album is Shaken Not Stirred on Arista Nashville Records.
"We wanted to put together a panel of judges with their fingers on the pulse of what's hot and exciting in Country Music today," said Libby Hansen, Vice President, Alternative Series and Specials, USA Network. "Phil Vassar is one of the hottest names in Country Music and knows what it takes to make it in this business and specifically what to look for in the next 'Nashville Star.'"
Michaels, who recently has been writing and recording Country Music, is best known as the lead singer of the rock group Poison. His forthcoming album is Freedom In Sound and he produced the brand new album from Forty5 South, We're Country Because We Can, set for release April 26 on TILO Records.
"Having sold over 25 million records, Bret Michaels is one of the best-known and longest-running successes in the music business," said Jeff Wachtel, Executive Vice President, Original Programming, USA Network. "But what will surprise his fans, is that he has always had one foot firmly planted in Country Music. He has the crossover appeal that we are looking for in our judges panel this season."