Talent Shines on Nashville Star (Episode 4-1)

If you’re a fan of TV vocal competitions, do yourself a favor and tune in to Nashville Star. The show’s fourth season premiered this week on the USA Network, without any lousy auditions or camera hogging wannabes. Viewers were treated to ten top-notch performances by singers with a future in country music.

Don’t be turned off if you’re not a fan of country. I’m not that fond of it myself, but I enjoy good performances, no matter what style of music. Throughout each season of Nashville Star, contestants perform classic and contemporary country, southern rock, and original songs as well.

It’s one thing to cover other artists’ songs, another to write your own material and play an instrument. All of the contestants on Nashville Star can do both, and many currently make a living as performers. They’re more experienced in front of live audiences than the contestants on American Idol, if you don’t count high school swing choir shows.

New hosts for this season are country music legend Wynonna, and the man who invented country-rap, Cowboy Troy. Troy smoothly delivered all of his lines with a grin, and kept things light. Wynonna played mother hen, offering advice to all of the contestants.

Judges Phil Vassar and Anastasia Brown return for another season. Phil’s written countless country hits, and Anastasia is the A&R wiz who discovered Keith Urban. So, win or lose, contestants would be wise to heed their advice.

Each week, the two regular judges will be joined by a guest celebrity judge, which is sort of a mixed blessing. The premiere’s guest judges were Big & Rich, whose comments ranged from somewhat insightful to barely intelligible. Next week’s guest judge is comedian Larry the Cable Guy; who knows what advice he can offer contestants.

All of the contestants gave good performances, but Casey Rivers and Matt Mason emerged as early favorites, with rich voices and cowboy good looks. Nicole Jamrose, a married mother of two, is the sentimental favorite to win. She’s got a distinctive voice and an aura of coolness.

Some of the contestants may not be true contenders, but their unique style makes the show interesting. Shy Blakemore looks like Bret Michaels from Poison and performs without shoes. Kristen McNamara is a blond California girl who yodeled for her opening number.

Although all of the contestants are talented singers, not all of them have star power. Monique LeCompte has a beautiful voice, but the judges said she’s more Broadway than country. And Jewels Hanson rocked her butt off, but she was a little over the top for the judges’ tastes.

Before voting opened to the public, the judges eliminated Jewels Hanson. Since Jewels sold her Harley Davidson to make the trip from California, Wynonna offered to loan one of the Harleys from her own collection so they could ride together.

The second episode airs Tuesday, March 21, at 10 p.m. Eastern. Special guest Gretchen Wilson will perform and the results of the first audience vote will be announced. If you’d like to catch up on the performances from the first episode, USA Network is reairing the season premiere this Saturday, March 18 at 10 a.m. Eastern.