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Monday, March 10, 2008

"Gone Country" Finale: Screaming Women Make the Difference

Friday was the finale of one of the most endearing reality shows I’ve ever seen, CMT’s “Gone Country.”

I mean, what other show has all of the competitors rooting each other on and giving advice before the final competition?

And what other show could expose the lead singer of a classic heavy metal band as a total pussycat?

After John Rich and Randy Owen rated the contestants’ demos of the songs they had written, two clear favorites had emerged—Bobby Brown with his heartfelt ballad, “The Man I’m Gonna Be” and Maureen McCormick’s classic honkytonk ballad, “Being Me.”

You might recall that my early pick was Diana DeGarmo. But John knocked her for doing a pop vocal. When he asked Diana why she wanted to get into country music, she said “she wanted a challenge” and John absolutely trashed her for her answer, giving an impassioned speech about how he wasn’t looking for someone looking for a coattail ride and that he’d die for country music. As she said, he made Simon Cowell look like a pussycat. So I wrote her off…

But she did manage to countrify her ballad, “Right Back Where We Ended” about the revolving door of a relationship, and give a good final performance in front of a Nashville crowd.

In fact, all of them were good performances. Julio Iglesias Jr. did “The Way I Want You” that sounded more like an Enrique Iglesias song than a country song, but the women in the audience loved it—especially when he sang in Spanish. Carnie Wilson sang a really cute song about how her daughter changed her life called “Everything Changed.” Sisqo did a ballad called “The Way That I Love You” that did have a country sound, but he kind of messed it up with some of his R&B dance moves. And Dee Snider did a rollicking country tune called “30 (Rock Out With Your Rooster Out)” that was going well until he flipped off the audience and dropped the f-bomb.

But as Dee said after Maureen’s performance, “She’s got us” and I was sure that she did—although it was hard to deny Bobby’s impassioned, slightly intoxicated performance. Mo did not have the strongest voice, but her song was classic, Loretta Lynn-style country.

So, after all of the performances, John gathered the contestants around to name the artist he thought had the best chance of going country. His criteria were the quality of the song, how the performance went, how the artist fit into the country lifestyle over the two weeks of the show, and the artist’s x-factor.

And after all of that, he awarded the “Gone Country” ring to…Julio?!

As I said, Julio’s song did not have a country sound and the lyrics certainly weren’t country (I want you/you know I do/I need you to want me too). Not to mention that Julio seemed to adjust to the country lifestyle worse than any of the other contestants. So why did John choose him?
Two words: screaming women. John saw all those screaming women and started counting dollar signs.

He seemed to be defending his decision in an interview with “Billboard” before the results were announced. “We have been looking for a bridge to bridge that gap between the Hispanic community and country music for forever. We could really use a couple of artists that speak their language and speak our language and bridge the two together. If he wanted to stick with it and take a serious run at it, he could do something.”

The other contestants were as shocked as I was, but no one was more shocked than Julio. Personally, I don’t think the contest meant that much to him, but now he’s got a single sent to country radio stations and a major cheerleader in one of today’s biggest country stars.

Personally, I would’ve chosen Maureen, but I would’ve looked up some of my R&B friends (Randy Jackson, perhaps?) and co-produced Bobby’s track with them. Bobby’s song has the catchiest hook of them all (“I’ve been locked up/messed up/I came so close to almost giving up), but it really does have more of an R&B feel. I think it could be a big comeback for him, so I hope he doesn’t give up on it.

You can judge for yourself with the final performances in their entirety and Julio’s video on the CMT website