EPISODE PREMIERE: March 14, 2006

SYNOPSIS: Nashville Star is back! The all-new season kicked off last night, and as always, some of country music's biggest names are along for the ride.

Five-time Grammy award winner Wynonna Judd and one of today's hottest country performers, Cowboy Troy, have teamed up as co-hosts this season, and last night the unlikely pair were joined by another country duo chart-busting stars Big & Rich who opened the show with a special live performance of their single "Comin' to Your City" and later filled in as guest judges.

Also joining the search for the next country superstar were our official Nashville Star judges, award-winning singer-songwriter Phil Vassar and music industry veteran Anastasia Brown, who'll be handing down advice, and some tough criticism, all season long.

And, of course, let's not forget the 10 Nashville Star finalists, who took the stage for the first time last night hoping to win over the judges and wow the audience. But while all the finalists might have been full of talent, charisma and passion, they wouldn't all be moving on to next week: by the end of last night's premiere, one contestant would be eliminated and one other would face the toughest critics of all: you, the viewing audience.

First to perform was "loud and proud" Texan Casey Rivers, who sang a "song about the heartland" that not only suited his country roots and voice, but scored big with the judges.

Next up was former Miss Albuquerque Melanie Torres, whose voice and stage presence not to mention beauty queen looks were a hit with the judges. The Spanish-speaking stunner impressed even seasoned pros Big &Rich.

Nicole Jamrose was next to perform. The "sexy mama" with a killer voice was quick to make fans out of the judges, but her biggest (or littlest) fans were in the audience: her two children cheered her on wearing "Vote For My Mommy" t-shirts!

Next to face the judges was charmer Chris Young, who showed off some serious skills on-stage and off: a clip revealed that country-boy Chris has a surprising talent break-dancing!

Former military man Jared Ashley has spent years touring frat parties, and the experience has given him some perspective. When asked how the live Nashville Star audience differed from his usual crowd of rowdy college students, Jared, who received mix reviews from the judges, said, "I don't think anyone's thrown up yet."

Monique LeCompte was next to take the stage. The judges were all in agreement about Monique's powerful voice, and though they had some reservations about her stage presence, Wynonna was quick to support the Nashville Star hopeful. "I'll tour with you," she told a star-struck Monique.

A barefoot Shy Blakeman (who explains that he opts against footwear because, for him, the stage is "holy ground") was next up. The judges were impressed with his enthusiasm and stage presence, though they urged him to continue trying to prove himself in coming weeks.

Bubbly blonde Kristen McNamara showed her support for the troops by taking the stage with a yellow ribbon around her wrist. She received mixed reviews for her performance, though the judges chalked it up partially to poor song choice.

Matt Mason, the final man to perform, left a lasting impression. The judges sang his praises, and they weren't the only ones. "He's so mysterious, dark and handsome," gushed a smitten Wynonna, after an impromptu duet with the soft-spoken singer.

Last to perform was Jewels Hanson, whose high-octane performance didn't exactly wow the judges. But the Nashville Star hopeful got a better reaction from a sympathetic Wynonna. When the Nashville Star host learned that Jewels had been forced to sell her Harley to pay for her trip to Nashville, she offered to take Jewels riding. "We could be like Thelma and Louise on wheels," she suggested.

With all the performances complete and the criticism delivered, it was time for a decision to be made. One finalist wouldn't make it past the night, and another would face elimination at the beginning of next week's episode.

The judges made their decision ... and sent Jewels Hanson packing. Looks like Jewels, who performed the Montgomery Gentry hit "Gone" may have chosen the wrong song!

The first finalist has been eliminated by the judges, and now another finalist's fate is in the hands of the voting public. Tune in next week for Redneck Revolution night, featuring a special performance by Gretchen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy as a guest judge, and find out which of the nine remaining finalists America will send home first.

And be sure to keep watching Nashville Star each Tuesday at 10/9C, because this season promises to be packed with great music, exciting performances and a behind-the-scenes look at the long and bumpy road to country superstardom.

Plus, we've got some of country music's biggest names joining the search for the next Nashville Star. So tune in each week to find out who keeps rockin' and who keeps walkin'!


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