FEBRUARY 23, 2007


Well, here we are, already at episode 7 and only one week away from naming this season's Nashville Star champ. It seems like only yesterday that I was rocking out to the Ozzy Osbourne-inspired guitar stylings of Tim LaRoche, criticizing Rickiejoleen's excessively sooty eye makeup, claiming that Whitney Duncan could actually sing (my bad), and expressing skepticism over the hiring of technically non-country artist Jewel as this year's NS emcee. So much has changed since then. Tim and RJ are long gone (Tim, I still miss ya; Rickie, um, not so much); Anastasia Brown's former favorite Whitney has gone down in peroxide-fueled flames; and Jewel has admittedly held her own nicely alongside her larger-than-life co-host, Cowboy Troy. Really, Nashville Star is getting so interesting now, it's a shame that it all has to come to an end in seven short days.

But next week's finale is sure to be a humdinger, as the race has finally been narrowed down to three worthy contenders: Zac Hacker, his soulful sister Angela, and Cajun sensation David St. Romain. I do confess that I'm a bit bummed that Joshua Stevens only made it to fourth place, as I personally preferred him over DSR -- and no, not just because Josh is, in my opinion, cuter. (I have a thing for Nordic blondes. So sue me.) I admit that I was hard on Josh in my first couple blogs, but hey, it's my prerogative to change my mind. (Like I stated in the previous paragraph, I wrote some positive stuff about Whitney early on, and obviously I flip-flopped on that issue.) Seriously, Josh consistently improved over the season (and no, Anastasia, I don't mean "consistently inconsistently"), and little by little won me over. I didn't want him to win the whole show, necessarily, but I think he deserved a spot in the final Nashville Star trifecta. Oh well.

Maybe that's why Joshua chose Tim McGraw's "Please Remember Me" as his swan song this week. Did he know he was going home? Did he fear he'd end up on the short-term-memory scrapheap like all the past season also-rans who've already left our collective consciousness? Perhaps. Or maybe the song was a dedication to his mother, with whom he was recently reunited after a 20-year estrangement.

Yes, during his hometown visit to Churchville, Iowa (in which he fulfilled the ultimate ex-band geek's fantasy of returning to his high school looking grown 'n' sexy), Joshua got to reconnect with his mom while the cameras rolled -- and it was some pretty heavy stuff. Unlike many Muzak-soundtracked reality show reunions, their meeting didn't seem contrived or scripted, and it was genuinely, quietly moving. I smell an Emmy! Anyhoo, I would've loved to hear what Mama Stevens thought of Josh's bitter original tune, "Wish I Missed You," but that's probably something they'd best discuss privately. Anyway, Nashville Star helped bring about this long-delayed mother-son meeting, and if it actually leads to them rebuilding their relationship, that's a more precious prize that any record contract. So Josh is clearly going home a winner, regardless.

Josh also went out on high note when his "Please Remember Me" performance was solid enough to elicit an awkward semi-apology from Blake Shelton, who's been tougher on Josh than I ever was. So don't you worry, Joshua. We'll remember you, all right.

OK, enough of Josh. He was great, but now he's gone. Let's focus on our final three, shall we? This week was the last voting show, so it was make-or-break time. Zac was the first to give it a go, and he certainly gave it his all. First of all, the boy cleans up nice. Who would've thought, of all the men in this race, a (previously) schlubby guy like Zac would become the heartthrob of the whole competition? Not me, I admit. I thought pretty-boy Josh was the potential sex symbol of the bunch. But nope, turns out that it's Zac who's got a way with the laydeez. During his hometown visit to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, he wasted no time making female fans (he even autographed an ample bosom or two), and back in Nashville, his smoky, sultry rendition of Kenny Rogers' "Lady" rendered Anastasia "weak in the knees" and inspired an obviously sexually confused Blake to declare Zac "a very sexy man."

Blake, I gotta agree with you on that one. Along with my delight at the news that Zac made it to the finale, I can't deny I was happy to hear that Zac is single, too. He says he wants a woman who's "fun to hang out with, likes good conversation, and doesn't get too drunk." Wow, a guy after my own heart. You know, Zac, I am obviously a wordy girl, so good conversation ain't a problem for me. And aside from a couple unfortunate episodes where I downed one too many Zimas, I'm pretty good at holding my liquor. Oh, but I'm getting so unprofessional here. I really should move on...

OK, let's talk about David, a man I can blog about objectively since I don't personally find him attractive (he's all right, just not my type). Plus, you know, David's happily married to a hot babe and all that. David also chose a Tim McGraw song, "Live Like You Were Dying." Or should I say his wife chose it? I honestly don't know if that's the best strategy for David, letting his missus pull a Yoko Ono like that. I mean, last week she convinced him to sing Gary Allan's "The One," and that was a real misfire. This week DSR was better, but that big last note was -- yes -- pitchy. (Sorry, I know that word gets used to death on this and ever other talent show, but in this case, "pitchy" is fitting.) So again, it might not have been the best tune for David, and at this late stage in the game, there's no room for song-selection error. If he loses next week (which he probably will; it just wasn't the performance of a champion), the St. Romains might want to attend a couple marital counseling sessions, just in case David ends up harboring any lingering resentment over his wife's (mis)guidance.

And finally, there was Angela, who was looking just as fabulous as her little brother. The sassy Laugh-In babydoll dress, the modified Tammy Wynette bouffant, the vampy knee-high, it sure didn't look like she'd been shopping at Wal-Mart recently! And she sounded just as great. Her powerhouse performance of Deana Carter's "Strawberry Wine" was the ideal showcase for her sandpaper-and-velvet voice, and unlike DSR, she nailed her all-important final note.

So now it's prediction time...and I am truly torn. Anyone who's been reading my blog knows I've been rooting for Angela all season long, but Original Song Night was a big turning point for me. After all, whoever wins this shebang is going to have to record and release original material, not cover songs, and though I do really like Angela's original, the kiss-off anthem "Losing You Isn't A Total Loss," Zac's tearjerking ballad "If I Wasn't For The Whiskey" is a bona fide HIT. I mean, it's got "hit" written all over it. In Sharpie. So now I'm leaning towards Zac instead of his big sis, believe it or not.

Really, I'll be happy if either Hacker wins, because they are both deserving. But couldn't there be a tie? Like that time at the Oscars, when Barbra Streisand and Katherine Hepburn both got Best Actress trophies? Remember that? C'mon, I don't want to have to choose. As Blake would say, "Don't make me!"

(Incidentally, this week Angela confirmed the longstanding rumor that she and Zac are distant relatives of Elvis Presley. Hmmm...I wonder who he would vote for?)

Really, the public's vote could still go any which way but loose. First, my worst nightmare could come true and the Hackers could split the vote, thus allowing for a DSR victory. But let's not even entertain such a silly notion. Second, and more likely, is that the female vote will be evenly split -- between ladies who have crushes on Zac, ladies who are crushing on David, and ladies who want to support one of their own -- thus making the male vote the deciding factor. In which case, I think good ol' boy Zac will prevail.

So yes, I'm going to go out on a limb (albeit not a very long one) and tentatively declare there will be a minor upset, with Zac Hacker winning the title...unless there's some kind of hanging-chad type of vote-tampering that the official Nashville Star committee can come up with, to rig a Hacker-Hacker tie. Not sure how they'd do that, considering that all the votes are coming in via the Internet and phone lines. But hey, if there's a way to figure that out, I enthusiastically advocate it.

Anastasia said that because this is such a tough vote, she feels sorry for America. Heck, I feel sorry for me. Who the heck am I going to vote for? I have to go figure that out now, so I must sign off. But come back next week for my recap of the big finale, and until then, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the Nashville Stars.

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