If life is a highway, love is a rollercoaster. In this episode of Real Country, three talented acts take the stage at the Real Country Bar in Nashville to sing songs that delve into love’s infinite nooks and crannies. “I think all country music should be a letter It should be direct,” says tonight’s guest judge Hunter Hayes. “It should be a personal experience to another human being who has had that experience.” Regular judges Shania Twain, Travis Tritt, and Jake Owen are in the house as usual to share their commentary. The audience is here to enjoy the music and vote.
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.
Jake’s pick: Frank Ray
Frank Ray served for 10 years on the police department of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Now he’s hanging up his badge and launching a second career as a country singer. It’s a bold move, and Frank is emboldened by his fiancee’s unyielding support, his desire to be a voice for the Hispanic community in country music, and his lifelong love of the genre. He gets the proceedings started at the Real Country bar with a hell-raising cover of Tim McGraw party-starter “I Like It, I Love It.” With his deep voice and bottomless well of energy, he is a natural showman and his own hype man. “This ain’t your first time on stage, is it?” Jake asks. Shania adds, “The sign of a professional is to make us forget everything and just get caught up in that moment. I just felt that we were at a party. This could have been your hit.”
Audience score: 3.9 stars
Shania’s pick: Riley Thompson
Riley Thompson is nothing if not precocious; she is only 15 years old and she has already penned over 50 songs. Tonight, her cover of “Love Story” harkens back to Taylor Swift’s days a country teen sensation. Shania praises her for maintaining her poise and refraining from oversinging, a common sin in country music. Travis praises her dynamics. Jake tells the story of a Halloween night many years ago when a 15-year-old Taylor Swift opened for him in Portland.
Audience rating: 3.4 stars
Travis’s pick: Porter Union
One night, many years ago, in his hometown of Springfield, MO, Cole Porter (not that Cole Porter) approached the waitress at the bar at which he used to perform. He spat minimal game but was able to convince her to sing karaoke. Her voice was magical. That woman was Kendra, today his wife of five years and musical partner. They’ve chosen to cover “Rockin’ Years,” a duet originally performed by Dolly Parton and Ricky van Shelton that they feel encapsulates what they want out of love. Their chemistry is evident—they harmony is rock solid, but they get some runs in, too. Gavin, host of Real Country, announces his retirement from karaoke immediately after the performance. Jake praises them as a pair of committed stylists, and his co-judges find themselves in the feels. “I have chill-bumps on my arms right now… and you cannot fake a chill-bump,” Travis says. “I’m feeling all soft and fuzzy,” Shania says.
Audience rating: 4.4 stars
Guest judge: Hunter Hayes
Frank returns with a cover of Kane Hit’s smash hit “Heaven.” It’s a power ballad, relatively subdued compared to his first performance, dedicated to his fiancee, Emily. “You took a modern song that’s on radio right now,” Jake tells him. “It’s sung by Kane Brown, who’s a low baritone singer. And you sang it in a completely different way.” Hunter tells Frank he sees “unending potential.” Travis tells him he can see him opening for a big country act right now.
Porter Union stand on stage, holding hands as always, and explain that the song that they are about to sing, Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” speaks to the ups and downs of their relationship and shared career. It’s an intimate duet, with more immaculate harmonies and stirring swells. “You’re sweet and you’re sincere, and that comes out in your performance,” Shania tells them. Travis calls their performance “so relaxed… so smooth, so pure.” “I felt like I was sitting in your living room,” he says.
Porter Union 4.4 stars
Frank Ray: 4.5 stars
Winner: Frank Ray!