Shortly thereafter, it announced that Nancy O'Dell, the popular Access Hollywood co-host that hosted Nashville Star's first two seasons, would not return for Nashville Star 3 and instead be replaced by Rimes. While O'Dell's weekday Access Hollywood commitments in New York eliminated any chance of her continuing with the series after the network decided to move Star's Nashville-based live broadcasts from Saturday evenings to a higher profile weeknight time period, her previous comments about the show would seem to have put her at odds with its new "hipper" focus.
A South Carolina native, O'Dell had made little secret of her love of traditional country music in press interviews, even telling the Charleston Post and Courier that she originally jumped at the chance to host that series because it wasn't "all about people's outfits and them baring their bellies." "Pop music tends to be so much about your image. Country music is so true to the talent and the writing skills," she stated in an interview conducted shortly before Nashville Star's initial March 2003 premiere.
Conversely, both USA and the show's producers have made no secret of their desire to change the show from a program that focused on more on traditional "throwback" country artists to a program that more closely reflected the more glamorous artists that have increasingly invaded the country music industry. "Nashville Star is going to reflect what's happening on today's country music scene. It's young and fun and we want our cast and the show to be the same," USA Network vice president Libby Hansen stated in October.
Rimes' own public comments have echoed that desire, and included a thinly-veiled jab at the show's previous editions. "A lot of things will be hipper... I'm sure it'll be a little less hay bale-ish. Obviously, we could use some young blood in our format," she told The Tennessean following her announcement as the show's new hostess.
Suffice to say that Star viewers shouldn't expect to see another overweight 40-something artist like first season winner Buddy Jewell crowned anytime soon. Or washboard-playing Nashville Star 2 third place finisher Matt Lindahl.
The format shake-up won't effect just the show's hostess and contestants. Country music comedian Cledus T. Judd will join Rimes as a show correspondent, providing her with what the network terms "color commentary." Universal South Records will also replace Sony Music Nashville as Nashville Star's recording contract partner, resulting in the addition of Anastasia Brown -- an artist manager who just happens to be the wife of Universal South senior partner Tony Brown -- to the show's judging panel.
"We wanted to put together a panel of judges with their fingers on the pulse of what's hot and exciting in country music today," said Hansen. "Phil Vassar is one of the hottest names in country music and knows what it takes to make it in this business and specifically what to look for in the next Nashville Star."
"I'm so honored to have my friend Phil Vassar join Nashville Star with me. Phil is an amazing talent who will inspire these country hopefuls tremendously," said Rimes.
While not directly addressed in the USA announcement, Nashville Star's change in record contract sponsors is also expected to have led to the departure of Tracy Gershon, the only judge to have participated in both of Star's first two editions. Gershon, who was credited (along with O'Dell) as a consulting producer for Nashville Star 2, is employed by previous record sponsor Sony Music Nashville.