Real Country returns to Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium for an episode titled “Hitting the Road” -- an homage to country’s fixation on the automobile as a symbol of freedom and means to explore America’s vast interior, and to the open highway that has beckoned to and inspired country artists for decades. Shania, Jake, and Travis have each selected one promising country artist whom they believe represents the future of country music.
How it works: three artists perform in Round One. The two artists 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.
Travis’s pick: Scooter Brown
Travis invites Scooter Brown, a shaggy-haired family man and ex-Marine who cooks up a sultry blend of rock, blues, and country. With his wife and six kids watching from the rafters, he performs a rendition of Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See” that leaves a lasting impression on the judges, especially the effusive Travis, who praises Scooter’s triple-threat ability to sing, write songs, and entertain. “We need to keep rock in country, so thank you,” Shaina adds.
Audience score: 4.3 stars
Jake’s pick: Savannah Keyes
Next up -- Jake’s selection, Savannah Keyes, a bubbly, self-deprecating (“adulting is confusing!”) young lady who grew up in Salt Lake City, performed on Ellen at age 13, and graduated from high school at age 16 to move to Nashville and pursue a music career. She elects to perform Kacey Musgraves’ gorgeous “Merry Go Round.” Shania compliments her “very pretty voice,” and Travis compares her personality to that of Dolly Parton. Jake extends an invite for her to join him on tour at some point.
Audience score: 3.9 stars
Shania’s pick: Kylie Frey
Kylie Frey is already accomplished; she grew up in a rodeo family and took home the 2012 Louisiana state championship for goat-tying. She is overjoyed to be performing in front of Shania, whom she has idolized since Kindergarten; Shania introduces Kylie as a “strong, independent, crazy talent.” Kylie sings her heart out to the tune of the Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces” amidst an amber sea of wheat. Shania’s reaction borders on a love letter: “I hear the rodeo queen, I hear the courage, and I think you sold it with all your heart.”
Audience score: 4.0 stars
ROUND 2 (Guest judge: Wynonna)
Scooter returns to the stage with a spirited, workmanlike cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s timeless “Ramblin’ Man,” which he presents as a tribute to his nomadic youth and Marine corps. “I appreciate the fact that it’s simple,” remarks guest judge Wynonna. “I’m so sick and tired of all the acrobatics that singers try to weave into a line. Just sing the fricking song.” Shania concurs, praising Scooter for refraining Scooter from over-singing. Travis continues to froth with enthusiasm for Scooter’s musical stylings. “Every time you go on stage, you make me want to jump up there with you.”
Kylie takes the stage with a huge, contagious smile and explains that she chose to cover Julie Roberts’ “Break Down Here” because she “refuses to break down now.” Her stripped-down arrangement draws out an intense, resolute, and longing feeling from every corner of her grainy voice. ”What I love about your style of singing is that you have dynamics,” Shania tells her. “You feel like you sang that song as if you wrote it yourself.”
Scooter Brown: 4.2
Kylie Frey: 4.5
WINNER: Kylie Frey!