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A former Colgate Country Showdown contestant herself, LeAnn spoke with members of the media backstage before the show about the night’s contestants, performing at the Ryman, and her own favorite performance moment as an up-and-comer.
What keeps you coming back to host the Colgate Country Showdown?
It’s new talent. It’s always nice to see new faces, and I was there once and I’m back and trying to help as much as I can. Its fun hosting. It’s fun to see these bright-eyed kids. It’s nice to see new talent.
Do you many times see them going on to bigger and better things?
This is the first glimpse of them hopefully going onto bigger and better things. You know, this music business is crazier than ever and harder than ever to break into so it’s just the beginning platform for these kids to take that next step in that direction. There have been so many people off of this show that haven’t even won—myself, Garth, Martina—none of us won, I don’t think, and we all went on to do something. So I think the thing is, you don’t win, and then you become a big star.
So the biggest loser’s the winner, right?
As a talent show contestant yourself, what skills do you think you bring to your role as a host?
I think I know where they’re coming from. I used to compete in talent competitions from the time I was five. I think I bring something different to it than a host who isn’t in the business or hasn’t had that experience.
What’s it like being up-and-coming and then performing at the Ryman?
Wow. For a lot of these kids, the Ryman is the ultimate dream. It was for me, too. It’s still cool. There’s so much history here that, you know, you’re now part of history, really. These kids are so excited to be on that stage.
The stage is jazzed up more than I’ve ever seen for any Ryman show. I don’t know if it is a tribute to clean teeth?
It’s sparkly! [laughs] It is. I think that’s probably it. It’s Colgate. If you look, it looks like teeth on the ground—sparkly, silver teeth. [laughs]
You’ve tried to give advice to contestants before the show. Do you see that as something you will expand on?
I think even with Taylor Swift and other people who have shot up so fast, I give them my number, because I know the feeling, and I know how the business changes. You go up and you go down, and if you’re fortunate enough, you come up again, which is really hard to do. So I’ve always been very open to giving advice if I have it to give. But everybody’s got a different path. But I’m always there. These kids are wide-eyed right now and so excited about being here. Hopefully this is a platform that they can continue on and live the dream that they want to live.
Do you have a favorite performance moment or memory from your time competing in talent shows?
It wasn’t a talent show, but I used to perform every Saturday night from the time I was seven at a show in Texas called the Johnny High Country Music Review. He had regulars that were there every Saturday night and then he had people that would come and audition for the show and they would get on maybe once every couple of months. He saw me sing and I think I became a regular in like three weeks, so I thought it was pretty cool back then, because I was the youngest regular and the quickest regular that he’d ever put on the show. I was there from the time I was seven until I was 12. I got my record deal with I was 13, and I was still performing on the show. That was definitely my platform to [gain] so much experience. My dad would make sure that I knew the key for my songs, and I would pick my songs during the week and I would rehearse them, and then I would go and sing them on Saturday night, and that was the biggest thing for me.
Among the song titles is “Whiskey’s Got a Job To Do” and “Let’s Have a Beer.” I’m wondering if a taste for alcohol helps you win this contest?
I don’t know! [laughs]. The cool thing about this contest is that there is such an emphasis on original material, so a lot of the material you will hear tonight is original. So maybe some of our contestants hang out in bars. Maybe they’ve had a lot of…I don’t know…experience and that’s something they draw from.
Can you tell us about the tribute to Garth Brooks?
Yes, Garth actually taped something for the show. Garth was a Showdown contestant. He didn’t win, but he went on to do, I don’t know, a few good things. [laughs]. He’s kind of big. You might have heard of him. But tonight we’re doing snippets of some of his hits, and he was kind enough to say something to the contestants, so that is pretty cool.