Real Country’s search for country music’s next star continues with an episode dedicated to music that gets to the heart of the American spirit. Shania Twain, who grew up in Windsor, Ontario, tells the crowd at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium, “My dream was always to come to America and make it. So the American Dream is alive and well.”
How it works: three bands perform in Round One. The two bands with the highest audience score advance to Round Two. The winner of Round Two takes home $10,000, earns a spot at Stagecoach 2019, and moves on to the Real Country finale, where they will perform for a chance to win $100,000 and a show at the Grand Ole Opry.
Shania’s pick: Billie Jo
Billie Jo is a 27-year-old single mother of four from Emory, TX (population: 1,200). She has been performing for 15 years, and she’s proud that her kids get to see their mom chase her dream. Shania invited her because she believes Billie Jo is an “incredible vocalist and true traditional country singer.” Billie Jo performs Martina McBride’s spunky, all-American ditty “Independence Day” amidst a shower of confetti, to the crowd’s delight. Though Travis tells her to be more mindful of her pitch, Shania encourages her to keep doing what she’s doing. “Our ratio of female voices on the radio is almost nil,” she says. “And only a woman could sing that song. I’d just love to see more women stand up and sing about the controversies. You’re the right person to do it.”
Audience rating: 3.8 stars
Travis’s pick: Tony Jackson
A Marine corps vet, son of a naval officer, and father of three from Richmond, VA, Tony Jackson steps onto the stage heavy support of Travis, who tells him, “The first time I heard you, it was like a dog hearing a high-pitched whistle. I perked up.” Tony showcases his trembling tenor with a cover of Travis’ iconic single “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” “Quite frankly, what you just did was not easy to do,” Travis says at the song’s conclusion. “You have to have some guts to perform that song in front of the dude who wrote it.” Shania tells Tony that it’s cool that he doesn’t sing with the same Southern twang as Travis. “You don’t have to have twang to sing country music. I don’t have twang.”
Audience rating: 3.7 stars
Jake’s pick: Larry Fleet
Larry Fleet might be the most humble guy you’ll ever meet. The White Bluff, TN singer used to work at a Nashville radio station and had a gig inspecting houses when he caught his big break -- when Jake Owen heard him singing at a mutual friend’s birthday party. He grew up singing gospel and bluegrass, and his soul shines through on his rendition of Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck,” originally a song about losing a brother at war. “I can completely understand why Jake invited you here,” Shania tells him. “You’re breathing and living every word. You’re a wonderful singer and I’m glad you quit your day job.
Audience rating: 4.5 stars
ROUND TWO (Guest judge: Trace Adkins)
Billie Jo dedicates her up-tempo cover of Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California” to her late father, whose dream was to drive her tour bus when she made it big. Shania gets on Travis case -- “her pitch was amazing that time!” -- and Travis concurs. The gravel-voiced guest judge Trace Adkins tells her she sang like it was the last performance of her life, and Shania reiterates the need to act fearlessly in order to compete with men in the country music business.
Larry returns with a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues” -- a tribute to the strong work ethic he inherited from his own father, who works in the concrete business and made the trip to Nashville to watch his son perform on the big stage. Larry’s self-assured, understated voice trades melodies with a bluesy fiddle. (“He’s so good,” Billie Jo says backstage). “I think Haggard would smile,” Trace remarks. “I don’t think there are any accolades that I could give you mean anything more than that.” Jake remains in awe of his voice, and also his name. “Larry Fleet -- it just sounds country!”
Billie Jo: 3.4 stars
Larry: 4.3 stars
WINNER: Larry Fleet!