Previous 'Nashville Star' winners yet to show consistent success
By Christopher Rocchio, 02/26/2007
Despite the fact that it's about to crown its fifth season winner, none of USA Network's Nashville Star four previous winners have enjoyed that type of commercial success one would expect to come from such a bolded titled series -- a development that hasn't gone unnoticed by some of the show's past and present judges.
"I think it's disastrous that there hasn't been a winner to go on to be a consistent star in Nashville," Blake Shelton, the country music star who has served as one of Nashville Star's fifth season judges, told The New York Times in an article published on February 25. "In order for the show to have credibility and for it to take another step, we need a Carrie Underwood to come out of it."
Nashville Star's fifth season is down to its three finalists -- David St.Romain, Angela Hacker and her brother Zac. However although the reality competition series debuted four years ago, none of its winners have yet to enjoy consistent success.
Buddy Jewell won the first season, saw his self-titled debut album go gold but only sold 80,000 copies of his follow-up effort, causing him to be dropped from Sony BMG. Nashville Star'ssecond winner was Brad Cotter, who saw his debut effort sell less than 140,000 copies, resulting to his quick drop from Sony's Epic Records. Erika Jo won the third season -- and had her self-titled album debut at No. 5 on the country album charts -- but it quickly fell out of the top ten, selling just over 118,000 copies in the year following its release. Chris Young won the fourth season and had his album debut at No. 3 on the Billboard country chart last October, but so far it hasn't produced any Top 40 singles.
Miranda Lambert, who finished third during Nashville Star's first season, has probably been the series' biggest success story. She landed a record deal with Sony BMG and saw her debut album "Kerosene" top Billboard's country albums charts when it was released in 2005. The debut album has since sold more than a million copies and its title track was nominated for a Grammy Award. Season 2 runner-up George Canyon has also had better success than most Nashville Star winners -- he's released three successful albums and has become a country music star in his native Canada.
"It's absolutely crucial that the talent level comes up and that the show really breaks a big artist," Tracy Gershon told The Times. Gershon was a judge on the first two seasons of Nashville Star and is also vice president for artists and repertory for the Nashville division of Warner Bros. Records, meaning her label will be responsible for cutting an album with this season's winner.
Shelton said what makes it "tricky" is that only a few months after Nashville Star ends, the record company working with the winner expects an album. "You need to keep your momentum going, but you don't want to rush out a [mediocre record]," he told The Times.
To hopefully help break the problem that has plagued past winners, Gershon is having Nashville Star 5's contestants record a song each week during the current competition.
"I'll take those recordings and mix and add things to them," she told The Times, adding the versions of which are available for downloading via iTunes on the show's Web site. "Whoever the winner eventually is, I'll have them record three more songs, and we'll have a record that goes out immediately. It'll be like a promotional record, something for them to share with their fans and tour behind. That way we can take our time to make the real record."
But Nashville Star executive producer Jeff Boggs said even if timing is improved, winners of the competition have to face the fact that country music fans tend to accept new artists slower than pop audiences. "It's incredibly hard to break in," Boggs told The Times. "When you look at the charts, the same people stick around the Top 15 for massive amounts of weeks during the year."
Still, Boggs wonders if the number of Nashville Star viewers correlates to the numbers of records its winner can sell. "When 52 million viewers watch your finale," said Boggs of Underwood's winning performance from the fifth season of American Idol, "you have to figure you're going to sell some records."
The finale of Nashville Star's fifth season will air Thursday, March 1 at 10PM ET/PT on USA.