Talent contests-from The Amateur Hour to The Gong Show-have been staples of radio and television programming from their earliest days. American Idol has put the talent show back into vogue, and one of its imitators is Nashville Star (Tuesdays, 10:00 p.m. ET, USA Network), which focuses on country music.
Nashville Star shows both the traditionalism and the commercialism of that genre. In one episode, a young woman does a rendition of the classic "I Want to be a Cowboy's Sweetheart," complete with yodeling. The judge in the Simon Cowell harsh-but-honest role, Music Row producer Anastasia Brown, chastises the singer for her song choice. "This is Nashville," she admonishes, as if Nashville is now too sophisticated for yodeling. But Wynonna Judd, the host of the show and a country singer who knows her roots, intervenes, acknowledging the contestant's tribute to Patsy Montana, the first female solo act in country music.
But if Music Row has been scorning the traditional sound of country music, the voting public still seems to like it. The Patsy Montana singer lasted into the final rounds, and the last survivors have the twang and the lonely sound of authentic country music.
Nashville Star, now in its fourth season, has discovered some good talent, most notably Buddy Jewell, the first-season winner. He had a hit with "Help Pour Out the Rain," in which he sings about yearning to go to Heaven, where he will "see my family and meet Jesus face to face."
American Idol is still the gold standard of talent shows. For one thing, it puts its contestants through the paces of singing in many different styles, including country music. It is no accident that one of its most successful winners is Carrie Underwood, who, also expressing her faith with "Jesus Take the Wheel," has become a Nashville star.