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Nashville Star: week one recap

Billy Ray Cyrus hosts the search for the next country music star.

A Jewel of a castLast night, NBC pulled the wraps off the sixth season of “Nashville Star,” the “American Idol” of country music. And yes, you read that right. The sixth season! 

So how come you never heard of it? Because up until now, the show has only been airing on cable but now it’s moved to NBC so it’s bigger and better. The question is, can a country music series bring in the ratings points a major network demands? I say, yes it can when it goes like this.

“Nashville Star” has an awful lot in common with its rock ‘n roll cousin, “American Idol.” They’re both singing competitions. Both have a trio of judges commenting on the performances and both ask the audience to decide who stays and who goes. But don’t look at “Star” as a copycat, it has a personality all its own. First off, there doesn’t appear to be an age limit on auditions. Or if there is, it’s much higher than you see on “Idol.” Second, duos and trios can compete as well as single acts and that makes for great variety. And third, well, it’s loaded with great country music week after week.

I’m a fan of the genre, in case you haven’t guessed.

Mercifully, the producers spared us from watching endless awful auditions by presenting only a short montage before diving right in to the top 12 in the first episode. For that, I am endlessly grateful. What I didn’t care for was the overly emotional pleas to the camera one right after the other. Too much, too much! The next bit leaves me divided and I imagine it may have divided the audience, too. The cameras followed Billy Ray Cyrus to an aircraft carrier where he officiated over an all military audition session. Now, I’m a patriotic girl and I believe in honoring the troops, but this just felt like a ploy for ratings. And I don’t understand what happens when someone in the military gets through. What if they win? Does the military say you can be excused if you get a record deal? Someone explain that to me.

The judges for this season are Jewel, John Rich of Big & Rich, and country music songwriter and producer Jeffrey Steele (the Randy Jackson of the bunch). As a group, they have varied taste and Steele was often the odd-man out in his comments, like when he praised Alyson Gilbert only to have her brutally shot down by Rich and Jewel. While not quite as biting as Simon Cowell, John Rich pulls no punches and that’s good for the audience, bad for the performers. Jewel was pretty opinionated herself, she’s no Paula, that’s for sure. There won’t be any false praise or dreamy sighs. These singers better bring it or they’re going to hear about it loud and clear.

{/headline}Let’s meet the singers.{/headline}Alyson Gilbert is a former pageant girl who nearly got booted in the first round because of her tendency to over-act while singing Sara Evans’ “Suds in the Bucket.”

Ashlee Hewitt, one of 13 kids with a dad in Iraq, charmed the judges with a simple rendition of “Bubbly.”

Coffey, a single dad, didn’t do himself any favors with the choice of “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray.

Gabe Garcia, however, grabbed the audience and the judges with “All My Exes Live in Texas” by George Strait. Gabe has a Texas and Mexican background which is unusual in country music, but he has a classic country sound that could keep him around awhile.

Justin Gaston is the heartthrob of the competition. He works as a model and the camera loves him, but the judges not so much when he did “Drops of Jupiter” for his number.

Duo Laura and Sophie look and sound like sisters, but they’re really just long time friends. They pulled out a lovely harmonizing version of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” and it rocked with the judges.

Melissa Lawson is one of the older competitors at age 32. She’s the mother of five boys and this is her one shot at living her dream. She was sassy and sexy with Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About.” Jewel complemented her on her animated performance which seemed a bit hypocritical since she dinged Alyson Gilbert for similar moves.

Pearl Heart is a trio of sisters, a pair of twins and a spare who performed some nice harmonies on “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks.

Tommy Stanley was “Walking in Memphis” instead of in Japan where he’s stationed on the USS Kitty Hawk. Not impressive.

Shawn Mayer was forgettable with Janis Joplin’s “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart.”

Third Town, a trio that includes, the oldest contestants, pulled out a fun version of the Oak Ridge Boys tune “Elvira,” but even I recognized that as a mistake. The judges called them old fashioned and suggested they needed to find a signature style if they wanted to win it.

Finally, Charley Jenkins worked the audience with Tim McGraw’s “I Like it, I Love it,” but the judges didn’t. They got on him for being insincere and said it sounded like a county fair performance. In the end, they sent him packing. 

Now it’s up to you, America. Time to vote for your favorites. Will it be a duo? A trio? Some old time country or a fresh new voice? Head over to to learn more about the performers then watch “Nashville Star” every Monday at 9:00 p.m. on NBC.

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