EPISODE PREMIERE: March 28, 2006

SYNOPSIS: We're through week three of Nashville Star, and the competition is really starting to heat up! Last night the Nashville Star stage was once again the place to find some of country music's biggest stars -- and some even bigger dreams.

As always, the show was led by co-hosts Wynonna Judd and Cowboy Troy, and this time our dynamic duo was joined by another country icon and true musical legend, Kenny Rogers, who opened the show with a crowd-pleasing live performance of his hit "Islands in the Stream" and set the bar for the remaining eight finalists.

Our Nashville Star judges -- singer-songwriter Phil Vassar and Music Row veteran Anastasia Brown -- had some special help last night from guest judge, and reigning WWE champion, John Cena. The pro wrestler admitted to being a big Nashville Star fan, but that didn't mean he was about to take it easy on the finalists.

"I'm as tough as I am excited to be here, so you'd better entertain me," Cena warned as the anxious Nashville Star hopefuls prepared to take the stage.

It looks like the example set by The Gambler -- or maybe the strict warning from The Champ -- might have been just what the contestants needed to step up their game. Even John Cena had to admit that though he had "wanted to come on the show and be the tough guy and tell everyone they sucked," it was difficult to find fault with the night's performances.

Jared Ashley kicked off the contestant performances with Keith Urban's hit "Somebody Like You," and his rendition drew positive reviews from the judges. "You kicked some serious ass," said Cena, someone who knows a thing or two about the subject.

Melanie Torres made it through another week of competition, and it looks like we can expect to see a whole lot more of her in the future. "You were money," Phil said after her performance of Roy Orbison's "Cryin'," and John Cena was also taken with Melanie's WWE Diva looks and impressive pipes.

Casey Rivers took a bit of a risk by performing the Hank Williams classic "Your Cheatin' Heart" without the accompaniment of the Nashville Star band, and it looks like it paid off. "You gambled, and you won," said Anastasia, and Phil agreed that it was Casey's best performance yet. Sounds like an early birthday present for Casey, who would be celebrating his 24th birthday the very next day!

Kristen McNamara was next to take the stage, and while her performance didn't score big with John Cena, Anastasia and Phil were impressed, noticing that the young Californian seemed to be "growing from week to week" and calling her "one of the frontrunners." Kristen performed Martina McBride's "This One's For the Girls," but it was a special man in the audience she was most excited about last night: her Dad!

Sporting a new cowboy hat and showing off "a voice as smooth as Tennessee whiskey," Chris Young wowed the judges with his spot-on performance of Keith Whitley's "Don't Close Your Eyes."

"You just took the #1 spot," John Cena told the young singer.

Nicole Jamrose inspired glowing words from all the judges, who loved her performance of the Lucinda Williams tune "Can't Let Go." John Cena admired her passionate performance, Phil called her "awesome," and Anastasia told the singer that she was "on fire." Even Wynonna piped in, telling Nicole that she "kicked butt."

With six contestants already through to the next week of competition, only two were left waiting to hear their fate. Monique LeCompte and Matt Mason listened anxiously for the results of last week's votes, and it turned out that America wanted to hear more from Matt, making Monique the third contestant to be kicked off the show.

"Don't quit before your miracle happens," advised Wynonna, and a resilient Monique showed no signs of giving up, giving even professional wrestlers a lesson in determination: "There's a great big world out there beyond this show and I'm going to conquer it," she announced.

After Monique's departure, Matt gave a performance that made everyone glad he'd gotten a chance to stick around. "You deserve a record deal," proclaimed Anastasia after Matt sang David Allen Coe's "The Ride," and Phil and John agreed that the young performer was "a certified badass."

After that, it was time for another certified badass, Kenny Rogers, to close the show on a high note with his new hit single, "I Can't Unlove You."

With all the performances complete, it was time for America to step in. You'll have to wait another week to find out who's getting the boot, so be sure to tune in next Tuesday at 10/9C to catch a live performance by Sara Evans, an appearance by guest judge Naomi Judd, and the results of this week's votes.

And remember to cast your vote each week, because it's up to you to decide who keeps rockin' and who keeps walkin'!


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