IN THE HOT SEAT

The contestants on 'Nashville Star' prove their mettle as they compete in situations that make them realize stardom is hard work.

The life of a country singer is a dream come true - but the schedule can sometimes be a nightmare. In addition to performing, stars have to pack all kinds of "extras" into their days, such as aftershow meet-and-greets, early-morning radio interviews and endless hours spent on a tour bus. Entertainers must also expect the unexpected - which is why the Nashville Star finalists are gamely being put in a "Hot Spot" in each episode.

The first "Hot Spot" challenge took place in Houston, where the finalists were told they would be performing at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. But rather than performing at the actual rodeo, they were instead taken to a small Houston club called the Firehouse Saloon & Eatery. Their job was to print up flyers, promote the show and fill the club, with only 24 hours of prep time.

Everyone scrambled, visiting local radio and TV stations, singing on street corners and even riding around in a golf cart with a bullhorn on the grounds of the Houston Rodeo. Time melted away and just one hour before showtime, only 90 people were in the club.

"We would've been a little bit embarrassed if we hadn't gotten it done," confessed finalist Marty Slayton, who along with the other finalists, turned up the heat in the last 60 minutes and managed to get over 200 folks to their show.

The Nashville Star finalists stopped by the Country Weekly offices just after their weekend in Houston. "I think we gained an appreciation for what [the record labels] do," Marty added, "because sometimes when you're so focused on being onstage and writing and singing, you forget there's all these other parts that have to be going to keep the wheel rolling."

The second Hot Spot had the contestants opening for Mongtomery Gentry at Nashville's Wildhorse Saloon - again, with little advance notice. For the third Hot Spot, the group headed to Bristol, Tenn., to perform during pre-race festivities for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While at Country Weekly, the contestants gave us the scoop on what it's really like to be filmed living at the Nashville Star house.

"We forget sometimes [about the cameras]," said Brad Cotter, "because the stuff we say, we shouldn't say on camera! But it's hard to forget when they're right here," he added, pointing inches from his face - to a Nashville Star crewman with a TV camera who had followed the performers into the Country Weekly conference room.

Each week the finalists spend hours rehearsing their songs - all for one minute onstage every Saturday. They often bring good luck charms with them to the stage. "I have rosary beads that I wear every time I perform," admitted Shelia Marshall. "I hide them somewhere on me."

"This is my grandpa's wedding ring," revealed Brent Keith, pulling on the chain around his neck. "He passed away this year, and he was my biggest music supporter, so I keep him with me whenever I'm onstage."

When these talented performers aren't onstage, they have other talents - never revealed until now.

"I can pop my ear," declared Jennifer Hicks, who then grabbed her ear, gave it a gentle twist and, indeed, made it pop.

"Do that again!" exclaimed Brad. "I can't compete with that." "I can vomit on cue," deadpanned Matt Lindahl. "And I haven't really seen y'all in your element yet, but I think I probably can dance - and specifically, breakdance - better."

"I'm starting to find out how terribly boring I am," admitted Lance Miller with a sheepish grin. "I like to play music and spend time with my wife, and that's about it."

As the final eight left Country Weekly to head to another rehearsal, George Canyon noticed his picture in the magazine. "Thanks for making me a hero in my mother-in-law's eyes now," he said with a smile. "She's such an avid reader of Country Weekly."

-- Wendy Newcomer

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