Winner Will Be Chosen Tonight on 'Nashville Star'

By Mike Hughes
Gannett News Service

Under the surface of country music, it seems as if there are deep pools of anonymous talent.

That's clear as "Nashville Star" prepares to announce its winner at 10 p.m. today on the USA Network. Viewers cast their votes April 26, but the remaining three finalists feel they are already winners since the show has brought many of them instant fame.

Until recently, all were obscure.

"I was famous in a half-county area," jokes John Arthur Martinez, 41.

Buddy Jewell, 42, had second-hand fame, cutting demo tapes for songwriters that became hits for other people. Now he's becoming known himself. "I'm an overnight, 10-year success," he says.
Only Miranda Lambert has moved quickly. At 19, she's been flung into the national spotlight.

"Wow, I'm on a reality TV show," Lambert says. "It's sure to cut four years off the time it takes [to be known]."

The show started with 8,000 people auditioning. Twelve contestants were selected. Now that's down to three, and viewers have cast their votes. Tonight's finale will announce the winner, who will land a deal for a Sony album, which Clint Black will produce. And all 12 contestants will return to perform as will Black, Jo Dee Messina and Trace Adkins.

The final three people illustrate country's range. This isn't the cutesy turf of "American Idol," which has an age ceiling of 24.

"It's really surprising that they picked the youngest person and the two oldest ones," Lambert says. "But we've all become close friends."

Her life experiences are slender so far. "I had a real job in a department store," she says, "but only for two weeks. I hated it."

So she focused on her music and now "Nashville Star." It's the first time she's lived away from home.

Martinez, by comparison, tried an alternate career. In his hometown of Marble Falls, Texas, he was an English teacher and tennis coach, singing at night.

"My wife could tell I needed to change," he says. "She said, 'You're not going to be happy if you don't try this full time.' "

His wife, Yvonna, changed his world in many ways. "I managed a package deal with her," he says. She brought her four children (now ages 9 to 20) into the marriage.

Now Martinez has a big family, an independent record label (Jam Records) and a career as a singer-songwriter in English and Spanish. He's expanded beyond his half-county of fame.

Jewell, originally from Osceola, Ark., has had a number of part-time jobs, including as a bouncer. He also had one previous crack at fame: A decade ago, he won two rounds of "Star Search" and landed a record development deal.

That sputtered and he's spent his time making, by his count, 4,000 demos for songwriters. Usually, he couldn't guess which songs would be the hits.

"When I sang, 'Write This Down,' I thought, 'Well, it's OK.'

"Then one morning, the alarm goes off and George Strait is singing it. I'm thinking, 'Hey, I recognize that song.' "