Sunday, 19 August, 2007 11:34 AM
CMA: TV Talent Contests Help
Launch Country Acts
BY KRISTIN BARLOWE
Street recording artist Bucky Covington.
BY ROBERT ASHCROFT
Recordings/BNA recording artist Kellie Pickler.
Deborah Evans Price
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
One has to look no farther
than the recent success of "American Idol" alumnae and
labelmates Kellie Pickler (19 Recordings/BNA Records) and Carrie
Underwood (19 Recordings/Arista) to document the impact talent competitions
provide in launching new artists. However, FOX-TV's "American
Idol" isn't the only such vehicle to jump start aspiring Country
Competitions have long
provided a talent pool for A&R executives at Country record
labels. Sawyer Brown made its bow on CBS-TV's "Star Search"
back in 1983 and became the first winner of the nationally televised
Brad Cotter, George Canyon,
Buddy Jewell, Erika Jo, Miranda Lambert, John Arthur Martinez, Chris
Young and newcomers Angela Hacker, Jason Meadows and Lance Miller
are among the artists who got their start on Music Row via USA Network's
"Nashville Star." In addition to those artists, Lyric
Street Records' Bucky Covington and Josh Gracin both gained a national
audience via "American Idol."
LeAnn Rimes hosted the
25th anniversary of the Colgate Country Showdown as North Carolina
native Megan Peeler walked away with the $100,000 prize. The televised
one-hour special was syndicated nationwide by MG Perin, Inc., and
also aired on GAC (Great American Country). Throughout the contest's
25-year history, Garth Brooks, Tracy Byrd, Billy Ray Cyrus, Sara
Evans, Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw and Neal McCoy
are some of the artists who won the competition at either the state
or local level.
"It meant everything
in getting jump started that fast," Sawyer Brown frontman Mark
Miller recalled of the group's "Star Search" experience,
which fans still remember as the band's springboard. "The TV
show made such a big splash, especially back then for Country Music.
Our first two albums went Gold and Platinum. Back in '85 for a Country
act to sell 100,000 units was a big deal and we sold 250,000 albums
the first couple of weeks, if I remember correctly."
Sawyer Brown still records
for Curb Records and, in addition to his work with the band, Miller
has several other endeavors. He owns Beach Street Records, a Christian
label that is home to the Platinum-selling band Casting Crowns.
He also produces other artists, among them Covington, who placed
eighth on "American Idol" during its fifth season.
"He has a cool,
cool sounding voice," Miller said. "I discovered Bucky
because my son was his biggest fan. Literally, when Bucky got voted
off, my son Gunnar made me call him. He said, 'Daddy you have to
help him.' That's literally the way the whole thing began."
Needless to say, Covington
was pleasantly surprised when he got the call from Miller. "The
day after I got voted off the show, Mark Miller called my hometown
newspaper and got my phone number and called me up," said Covington,
still sounding somewhat incredulous at his good fortune.
Miller and his son weren't
the only ones taking notice of Bucky, which made things easier when
Miller began looking for a label deal for Covington. "I really
didn't have to shop him around," Miller said. "I knew
Doug [Howard] and Randy [Goodman] at Lyric Street. I literally just
made a phone call and they pretty much said 'yes.' Doug had seen
Bucky throughout the show and was a fan."
Sawyer Brown has taken
Covington out on the road, and Miller said he's seen first hand
the recognition generated by the "American Idol" phenomenon.
"It is mind boggling how many people saw that show," Miller
said. "When we bring him out on stage, we don't even have to
introduce him. They see that long blond hair and they start going
nuts. They know exactly who it is."
Lyric Street Records
President Randy Goodman is not surprised. "We've always known
the power of network television," he said. "You'd have
to be a monk to not know the impact 'American Idol' is having on
the general population."
Goodman said "American
Idol" exposure helps acts break more quickly. "With somebody
like Carrie Underwood and Josh and Bucky, you've got acts that are
already branded to a certain degree. Radio stations know who Bucky
is or Kellie Pickler is or who Josh is, and they definitely know
who Carrie Underwood is. So, you've got a built in awareness and
that awareness creates interest. Radio is always going to be the
primary way that I sell records and that I alert and activate the
audience, but 'American Idol' has created an instant recognition
Covington said "American
Idol" exposure definitely helps put a new artist on the fast
track. "One of the toughest things for a new artist is you
have to put out three to four good songs before people know who
you are," he said. "The greatest thing about the show
is you've got fans before you put the single out. That's a great
Goodman said that Covington
getting to work with Miller is a major plus for the new artist because
he understands what it's like to gain acclaim from a talent competition.
"He went through that process," Goodman said. "What's
great about Mark as a mentor is he came from a contest show. He
won it. He understands that immediate love that everybody pours
on you, but he also understands that to build a long term career,
you have to take that foundation, that kind of branding, and build
on top of that with great, great songs. Mark and Sawyer Brown did
that and Mark has proven to be an extraordinary businessman. There
is not a better person than Mark that Bucky could be working with."
Gracin said talent contests are a great way for aspiring acts to
break into the business.
"I tried to get
into Country Music a long time before the show," Gracin said.
"I recorded a CD and tried to plug it and get things going.
It never worked. So I took a step back from music and went into
the Marine Corps. Then the show came up and I thought that would
be a pretty cool way to get my foot in Country Music. I tried it
and I got a spot on the show. It's done wonders for me." Gracin
has scored a Gold album, a No. 1 single and two Top 5 singles.
exposure helped make Pickler's debut album, Small Town Girl, a tremendous
success. Like Gracin, she's grateful to have had "Idol"
as a launch pad.
it and they get to be a part of our success," she said. "They
pick the winner and they get to watch you grow from the very beginning
of a career, all the way to the top. And they support you afterwards,
buying your albums and coming to your concerts."
Idol's" TV exposure provides that competition with tremendous
visibility, the longest running Country talent competition - and
the one that has launched some of the most successful artists -
is the Colgate Country Showdown. It is produced by Special Promotions,
Inc., which partners with 470 radio stations across the country.
In 2006, the Showdown sponsored more than 550 live shows, exposing
lots of new talent. Launched in 1982, Wrangler was the original
sponsor of the event.
Over the years Coca Cola,
Jimmy Dean, Dodge, GMC and True Value have served as title sponsors,
but the one constant throughout the years has been Dean Unkefer,
who spearheads the Showdown.
manuals and media coordination, we assist radio stations and fairs
in their promotion of the Showdown," Unkefer said. "It's
synergy. We all take pride in it and there's a place for everyone
on this program."
Unkefer loves helping
aspiring acts be seen and heard. "The most important thing
in the Showdown is not winning or losing but having the opportunity
to perform in front of live audiences and help contestants be exposed
to industry professionals," he said.
Such exposure can have
longterm effects. Troy Gentry won the Jim Beam Talent Contest in
1994 as a solo act, before teaming with Eddie Montgomery to form
Montgomery Gentry on Columbia Records. Jim Beam supported his burgeoning
career and continues to do so by sponsoring Montgomery Gentry.
"They kept up with
what was going on with my solo career and tried to help me out,"
Gentry said. "Then Eddie and I got put together and the people
who were involved in the Jim Beam contest contacted our management
company to see if we could hook up for a sponsorship."
Gentry encourages other
aspiring artists to try the competition route. "I think the
winning of the contest was encouragement for me to keep on playing,
which led to Eddie and I getting back together to form Montgomery
Though there can sometimes
be a stigma associated with being a talent contest winner, those
who have used it as a portal to the music industry don't regret
"If this is bad,
I've got it good," Pickler laughed. "At the end of the
day, regardless of how you make it, you've made it. I can only thank
'American Idol' for the exposure they've given me in launching my
Gracin is also proud of his 'Idol' past. "It will always be
a part of where I came from and what I've done," Gracin said.
"I never try to downplay that at all because without it, I
wouldn't be where I'm at. It's been very instrumental in everything."
On the Web:
BY JOHN RUSSELL
Hacker wins "Nashville Star."
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