WELCOME BACK, COTTER

The second season of 'Nashville Star' has come to an end. Now its winner, Brad Cotter, finds his world spinning faster than ever.

Last year, before he became a finalist on TV's Nashville Star, aspiring singer/songwriter Brad Cotter performed some of his original songs in an audition for Nashville's Sony Music. But the label turned him down. "No star quality," they told him.

Yet Brad - an Alabama native who's been slugging it out up and down Music Row for eight years - didn't let that rejection dampen his spirit. He decided to take a chance and audition for the USA Network's second season of Nashville Star, which awards a contract with Sony Music to the winner.

And on the evening of May 1, during the show's grand finale, that winner turned out to be Brad.

"I think that's pretty funny," laughs Brad, who jokes that now it's up to Sony to make him a Nashville star. His first single, "I Meant To," hit the airwaves two days after Brad was crowned the winner. That same day, Brad hit the ground running.

"I got up at 4:30 in the morning," he says, "did about 40 interviews and then I had about an hour break for lunch. They had me really hopping. That afternoon I did about 30 more interviews."

In the span of 72 hours, Brad says his life changed drastically. "A lot of people want to talk to me now, and last year I couldn't even get anybody to return a phone call. So that part of it's changed. But I haven't changed. I'm just doing what I've been wanting to do for 12 years now. I'm glad it's finally happening - 'cause I'm ready to prove some stuff!"

Brad admits he never expected to win Nashville Star. "I thought I was going to be the runner-up, or finish third and get a record deal out of it anyway"- the way last year's secondand third-place winners, John Arthur Martinez and Miranda Lambert, both landed recording deals after the show, despite not bringing home its top prize.

"I'm just being brutally honest," continues Brad, "and I hope that doesn't sound pompous. Word had kind of leaked out in the social circle that I have around town from being here for so long, that I was gonna get a record deal from somewhere, even if it wasn't with Sony.

"Knowing that, I really wasn't expecting to win," he continues. "I really thought George Canyon was the poster child for Nashville Star. He's a real cowboy, a great singer, a great songwriter and a great person - he's the total package. So I really was anticipating shaking his hand and congratulating him - and coming home and answering my phone and seeing who wanted to meet with me this week. That was really my intention."

Brad is friends with Buddy Jewell, who won the first Nashville Star competition. But at the time of this interview, he hadn't yet contacted Buddy for advice. "I really want to," he says, "because I can't wait to pick his brain and find out what I have to look forward to and what I have to dread. He, of all people, can totally relate to what I'm going through right now. I'm hoping to get to talk to him in the next couple of days."

But, first, there's the matter of promoting "I Meant To," which Brad wrote with Nashville songwriters Steve Bogard and Rick Giles. Steve and Rick are also producing Brad's debut album, which is scheduled to hit stores July 13.

"The idea for 'I Meant To' came up because I was late for a writing appointment with those guys one morning," explains Brad. "I explained, 'I'm sorry, I meant to call you, I was just running late.' Rick said, 'I meant to - is that like you're "fixin' to"?' He's from L.A., you know, so he got a kick out of me saying, 'I meant to.'

"We wound up laughing about it enough that we thought there might be a song idea in that. We started thinking about all the things you really should do, things you should appreciate before your time on Earth is done. I said, 'Well, any pretty woman I've never kissed or seen naked - I'd like to do that.' But we had to tone down the naked part," says Brad with a smile.

Though plans still aren't finalized, this summer Brad will be joining other Nashville Star finalists on tour, which will take the group throughout the U.S. and Canada. In fact, Brad estimates it'll be Christmas before he'll have a chance to see his mom and dad and the rest of his family, who faithfully cheered him on during Nashville Star tapings.

"But hey," he says, "I've seen them for 33 years!

"I'm ready to do this thing!"

-- Wendy Newcomer

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