TV REVIEW: Nashville Star

After six seasons of this country music singing competition, we can be sure of one thing. The winner will fade into obscurity almost immediately.

That is, unless the names Brad Cotter, Erika Jo, Chris Young or Angela Hacker mean anything to you. Among them, only Young maintains a major label record deal. (Season two runner-up George Canyon returned to his native Canada where he's become a big star.)

Ironically, it was season one winner Buddy Jewell and that season’s second runner-up Miranda Lambert who’ve achieved any degree of success following their stint on Nashville Star – and even their stories require asterisks.

Jewell – after only two hit singles and one Gold album – has long since fallen off the national stage.  Lambert – despite a Platinum-selling debut album (and the follow-up, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” selling Gold), more press than any country star can handle and support from everywhere except country’s ultimate gatekeeper: radio – is still in search of her first Top Ten hit.

Call me an otherwise ignunt boy with a great big hunch and no insider knowledge to prove it, but something tells me country radio doesn’t like it when folks enter their medium via a televised competition show. Yes, Carrie Underwood is an anomaly but, from the gossip I’ve heard, she won hands-down every single week she competed on American Idol, which began a juggernaut that has yet to slow down.

Oh, and American Idol has something like 30 million-ish more viewers than Nashville Star.

Nashville Star hit the big time this season – moving from cable channel USA Network’s Saturday night lineup to prime time Mondays on NBC – and, while at first glance it seemed a good idea and a good opportunity for everyone involved, episodes one and two are quickly proving those assumptions false.

Entertainment Weekly previewed the program prior to its debut, daring to label it better than American Idol, but unfortunately assumed Nashville Star would live up to the expectation of its namesake city. From writer Whitney Pastorek:

What's not to love about a show where full-grown adults are invited to compete, no one has to pander with patriotic Jesus songs because it's basically implied from the start, and the ability to play an instrument and write songs isn't a novelty but the norm?

Yes, there are full-grown adults involved here (though the eldest of whom – first episode loser Charley Jenkins and the frenetic trio Third Town – have already been sent home), so far instrumentation doesn’t seem a necessary factor, and let’s be honest: do any of us truly believe there’ll be an “original song”/songwriter’s night?

Speaking of songwriters, Jeffrey Steele, a first-time judge, adds a lot of credibility to the ceremony but I fear not enough people know who he is. (A friend asked if he was a former wrestler.) Jewel’s got an album to sell and, this being America, you can’t argue with her presence, therefore. And while I miss Anastasia Brown – with whom you may not always agree but could never argue with – the return of John Rich adds that element of “crazy” these shows are known for.

In a perfect world, imagine how wonderful KT Oslin, Tom T. Hall and Marty Stuart would be as judges: all songwriters, all witty, each representing a different personality or era of country music’s history.

The contestants – and I blame the move from USA to NBC for this – are straight out of central casting. Whereas in the past it was clear the contestants were coveting a place on one of the many Lazy Susan-style rosters among the quote-unquote artists on the music row labels, this time it seems our immediate entertainment -- and a notable visible diversity among the singers -- is more important.  Notice how not one resembles another? Well, except for the girls and that may just be my gayness clouding my vision/hearing. 

Coffey? No, thank you. What with all the trills and riffs and runs and such, he’s as uncountry as … well, Jessica Simpson. One commenter to an online article I read said “he sounds as if he’s vibrating.”

Gabe Garcia. He looks too much like an Indian for me to be objective. I wanna touch his body. As has been stated elsewhere, John Rich clearly wants very desperately to produce an Hispanic country artist, so I’m sure Gabe will go far.

Justin Gaston. Is he gay? John Rich seemed to be wondering that this week (though he's not the most unbiased person on the topic). We all know he’s an underwear model – and I’m not lying: if I was into scrawny boys in their skivvies I’d be all about this kid. But I ain’t. So I don’t like him. Oh, and he can’t sing to save his life. Unfortunately he can sing well enough to stay on this show.

Alyson Gilbert. She was the Miss Tennessee, nothing but eyeballs and teeth bustin’ out during her “Suds in the Bucket” during episode one. I love her smile. I think that’s all.

Ashlee Hewitt. Who? Jewel: the sequel. I know of one Alaskan who might want to consider puttin’ the kibosh on this new competition little number.

Laura & Sophie. You hate to tear down little kids, but I really don’t like them. When they sing all I see are two teenagers, not performers. They prove that LeAnn Rimes, Tanya Tucker, and Jessica Andrews were rare birds. Even better: compare them to early (yeah, I said “early”) Billy Gilman.

Melissa Lawson. The new Wynonna. While part of me knew she was safe throughout episode two, it still hurt to watch the pain on her face become more plain as she fell to the bottom two.

Shawn Mayer. I’m one of those who think nobody should ever attempt “He Stopped Loving Her Today” simply because we’ll all spend the entire time either comparing it to George’s version, or hearing George’s version in our heads with every deviation a reason to blanch.

Tommy Stanley. Military always has a leg up. He’s cute. He sings well.

Pearl Heart. (see above: “Laura & Sophie”)

Ratings are way down by NBC standards. Folks aren’t even watching the lead-in, American Gladiators. If this doesn’t work out, what’s a country-music- lovin,’ gladiator-lustin’ gay guy to do?

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