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Nashville Star

Country Standard Time Editorial, May 2005

The third season of Nashville Star, American Idol for the country music crowd, ended with Erika Jo Heriges, an 18-year-old from the Nashville area, winning. Erika Jo, as she goes by, became the first female in the three-year-history of the show to win the title and also was the youngest winner.

While congrats certainly are due to Heriges, who is a strong singer, a few thoughts about Nashville Star.

This does not necessarily seem to be the best way to find talent. Erika Jo has the looks and a strong voice, but who knows if she is an artist of any duration? And that's not her fault either.

Except for one show where the contestants sang original material, every other show consisted of generally very well known covers of hits. While usually sung well by the performers, it would have been nice to see if the singers had a bit of meat on the hoof in terms of their own abilities of writing or taking an unknown song and putting it across.

Jody Evans, the Arkansas policeman turned retro/hillbilly artist, gave signs of having a sense of uniqueness given his song choice and revved up style, recalling Elvis at times.

The problem, as it is with American Idol, is that the show veered towards the formulaic tried and true instead of blazing new musical trails. Otherwise, the singers would not have been asked to do covers on almost every show.

The role of the judges posed a question mark as well. While entertaining, Bret Michaels had no business being there. And why on earth did he perform non-country songs from his hair band Poison? Phil Vassar liked almost everything thrown his way. The same could never have been said about Anastasia Brown though she seemed to be hearing and seeing a lot differently than most people tuning in.

And why was Brown picked to be a judge? The winner gets a recording contract with Universal South, which happens to be run by her husband. To avoid any appearance of favoritism, the show's organizers should never have used someone clearly affiliated with the label in such a role.

On the plus side, fortunately, Nashville Star doesn't discriminate based on age like American Idol does where you have to be less than 28. If that were the case, Buddy Jewell's career would not have included winning the first Nashville Star because he already was 42.

Kudos to LeAnn Rimes for doing a good job as the host and coming off as sincere.

Three years into it, Nashville Star is one for two as Jewell has done well, while second year winner Brad Cotter no longer even has a record contract after one dull album for Sony.

The verdict is out of course on Erika Jo until she makes her own music. Her youthfulness won't necessarily help because of her inexperience.

But the pressure will be on because without a more successful outcome for Erika Jo, record labels will be more and more dubious of using Nashville Star as a springboard to finding talent and selling records.

Nashville Star still holds promise, but a few changes are in order.