In 2008, "Nashville Star" ended a six-season run on USA Network and briefly, on NBC. The show - a clear offshoot of "American Idol" - generated a few hit-making artists, most notably Miranda Lambert and Chris Young.
But it took a decade for USA to go down this path again, this time with "Real Country" featuring panelists Shania Twain, Jake Owen and Marietta native Travis Tritt. This new reality competition show debuts at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
Tritt, 55, and Twain, 53, are from the same 1990s period but represent different poles of country: more traditional and more pop. Owen, 37, is the relative young’un in the crew with five top 10 country albums and a foot firmly in the modern country world.
“Real Country” as a show is designed a bit differently from “Idol” and “The Voice” or even its predecessor “Nashville Star.” Rather than start with a massive group of contestants and eliminate them over time, each of the first seven episodes will feature three acts. One will win $10,000 each week.
The seven winning acts will then compete in one final episode for $100,000 and a performance at the Grand Ol’ Opry. (There is no record contract at the end of the tunnel.)
REAL COUNTRY -- "Drink Up Party Down" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Travis Tritt, Jake Owen, Shania Twain -- (Photo by: CJ Hicks/USA Network)
Credit: USA Network
Credit: USA Network
Each of the country stars hand-picked seven acts from auditions in Nashville and Texas. Each episode will feature one act from each panelist. Celebrity guest judges pop by including Trace Adkins,Kane Brown, Sara Evans, Wynonna and Big & Rich. The Nashville-based audience picks the winner in each episode.
The entire season was pre taped. There is no live voting.
I talked with Tritt about the show and here are some highlights:
Why he's doing this: "Country has blossomed into America's favorite type of music. [Well, R&B/hip hop technically is but country music is inarguably popular.] So many different diverse sounds have been added to the musical landscape since the days of 'Nashville Star.' This show is trying to bring all those different aspects which are extremely popular. Pop country dominated for awhile but there has been a resurgence of traditional sounding music. There's more lyrical and musical substance. I've been a very vocal advocate to bring more traditional-sounding music back to the mainstream. I brought in several artist that fit the bill."
No neophytes: "We don't bring in any rookies. All of the people involved are all artists for the most part and have been around for awhile. Some do 250 shows a year on the road opening for other people, just getting out there. Some have publishing contracts. They are looking for a big break. We're giving them an opportunity."
Comparing to his own break-out moment: "In 1989, I already already had a record deal and management. But I remember doing a showcase for 500 people in Nashville to find a booking agent and a publicist. I'd played the bars and clubs for so long. I remember pinching myself. This was everything I had been working so hard for up to this point coming to fruition. This show is doing the same thing and you're not only playing in front of a room full of live fans but a national audience. It's taking that showcase aspect and bumping it up."
He's an idol: "I grew up listening to George Jones, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings. Those were the people I heard on the radio growing up. Most of these artists grew up listening to me, Garth, Alan Jackson, Clint Black. They hold us in the same high esteem we did Merle and George and Johnny and Willie and Waylon. It was almost kind of overwhelming to realize that man, you've had so much more of an impact as an artist than you realize you had until you talk to them. That was eye opening."
Conflict among the panelists? "We all love traditional country music. We approached our careers differently and we didn't necessarily agree on everything. But we got along great. We all know how impactful it was us to hear from our own idols, to get advice from them. We are now trying to pay it forward with these young artists. We want to lift these artists to a higher plane."
“Real Country,” debuting Tuesday, November 13 at 10 p.m. on USA Network
About the Author
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.