WAY TO GO BUDDY

After struggling for a decade to land his big break, Buddy Jewell is crowned champion of Nashville Star

Good things come to those who wait. Just ask Arkansas native Buddy Jewell, who spent 10 frustrating years knocking on Nashville doors in hopes of landing a record deal. The singer/songwriter had been turned down so many times that he had considered throwing in the towel altogether.

But Buddy's life changed in an instant when millions of Americans voted him the winner of USA Network's series Nashville Star. His prize was a recording contract with Sony Nashville, and a CD produced by superstar Clint Black.

"It was darn near the last-ditch effort for me," recalls Buddy of his audition for the show last year. "I thought, 'Well, I've tried everything else -- maybe I can win a record deal, if I can't get 'em to give me one.' I felt like if enough people knew about me and heard my music, maybe somebody would feel like they couldn't ignore me anymore."

No one's ignoring Buddy now. Since winning the heated competition, Buddy's life has gone from zero to 60. He's been bombarded with countless interviews for radio stations across the country, released his debut single, the touching "Help Pour Out the Rain (Lacey's Song)," and has begun to search for songs to include on his album, slated for release in July.

"I've had about eight hours sleep in the past three days," says a weary Buddy with a grin. "I'm like Pecos Bill -- I have lassoed the whirlwind! But hey, it's a fun ride."

Buddy will never forget the moment Nashville Star host Nancy O'Dell read his name as the winner. "It was like I was watching somebody else go through it," he says. "When Nancy opened the envelope, I was looking out in the audience for my wife, Tene. I thought, 'You know what? Live or die, I want to see her and it'll help me get through this moment one way or the other.'

"Then she read my name, the confetti went off, and it's a good thing it did -- it helped to cover the shock I was in. There was this rush of emotions -- the happiness of it happening, feeling vindicated after so many years of trying to break into this business." He laughs. "Now somebody's gotta give me a record deal, whether they like it or not!"

As he stood on the stage waiting for the winner's name to be announced, in front of an anxious Nashville crowd and a TV audience of millions, Buddy put his hand on the shoulder of the other remaining contestant, John Arthur Martinez, as a gesture of camaraderie -- and solidarity.

"How are you feeling?" asked Nancy.

"John Arthur and I are great friends -- great Christian friends -- and we're doing wonderfully," responded Buddy.

Buddy says the final outcome of the eight-week competition unfolded like a scene from a movie.

"I thought, man, if this were a movie, I couldn't have scripted it any better," says Buddy. "The two old guys were the last ones standing -- and we were there because America put us there."

Indeed, the "old guys" (42-year-old Buddy and John Arthur, close behind at 41) outlasted 10 younger finalists, several of them close to half their age. One by one, the younger competitors were voted off.

For the many years that Buddy hoped to score his big break, he made ends meet by singing demo recordings for other songwriters. Now he's already been pitched demos -- with him singing them -- from the very same writers who had originally hired him! The writers are hoping he'll cut their songs on his album.

"I'm hearing lots of me!" he smiles. "There are writers who have used me year in and year out and helped feed my family, so I want to look at their songs first. I want to be a blessing to them, because they've been a blessing to me."

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