This day in Willie Nelson History: Nashville Star (April 3, 2004)

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EPISODE 5: WILLIE SONGS EPISODE PREMIERE: April 3, 2004

This week’s Nashville Star featured a guest appearance by music legend Willie Nelson, and six of the eight remaining contestants were faced with the daunting challenge of performing some of Willie’s best-loved songs in front of the man himself! The two contestants who received the fewest number of votes after last week’s show were sent home.

Willie kicked the show off with a performance of his classic “Whiskey River” as the contestants watched from the audience, and the BellSouth Acuff Theatre erupted into thunderous applause. The contestants then joined Willie on stage and all had an opportunity to shake the legend’s hand before he took his seat in the theatre.

Later, the contestants shared their thoughts on why Willie Nelson is an icon: “He’s shown us that we don’t have to go through the door that everyone wants us to go through,” George Canyon said. When asked about the pressure of performing in front of Willie, George said “As long as I stay conscious, I’ll be OK.”

“Not only does he write truthful songs from his heart,” Brad Cotter said, “but you feel like he’s lived them.” “This is royalty,” Marty Slayton agreed. “For our business he’s as good as it gets.”

Sheila Marshall commented, “He connects with everyone.” “He’s a storyteller, he’s a singer, he’s a stylist, he’s a writer, he’s an icon,” Matt Lindahl expounded. “You can’t get around it. But I bet you if you really got a chance to sit down and talk to Willie Nelson, he’s ‘just folks,’ too.”

“He just seems like your friend,” Brent Keith agreed. “I’ve waited my whole life to meet Willie Nelson, and oh my God, I’m going to!” Jennifer Hicks exclaimed.

Host Nancy O’Dell announced that the evening’s show would consist of performances only by those contestants remaining in the competition. With only six performance slots and eight performers remaining, tensions ran high each time Nancy read out a name.

Fairfield, Illinois native Lance Miller was selected to perform first. When Nancy asked him how he felt about being the first to perform after Willie himself, he said, “I’ve heard Willie talk about living in the moment and enjoying the now, and I’m gonna enjoy this for a minute.” Lance’s performance was a confident and original version of “On the Road Again,” during which Willie clapped along. Afterwards, Tracy Gershon said, “One of the things I look for is somebody who can perform under pressure. You just sang a Willie song with Willie in the audience. Baby, you just proved yourself!” “I didn’t think you’d be around until the end,” Billy Greenwood said, “but tonight you definitely proved me wrong.” Brett Warren said, “You’re a country star, and I would buy your record.” “Dude, Willie Nelson just opened for you!” Brad Warren added.

The next person who earned a performance slot was the pride of Snellville, Georgia, Matt Lindahl. Wearing dark overalls under a black jacket (and, of course, his trademark red ball cap), Matt took a more serious turn by singing the gospel-flavored “Uncloudy Day,” as Willie clapped along. “I have asked you week after week to show us what you could do, and you just did it,” Billy commented. “You showed America tonight you could really sing,” Brad added. “It’s a tough vocal race right now… you’ve got some tough competition,” Tracy concluded, to which Matt replied, “I know it; I live with them!”

Next it was time for the latest Hot Spot segment. Last week, the contestants received a phone call from NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, who invited them to sing in front of 160,000 people at the Bristol Motor Speedway during pre-race festivities for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Food City 500. At the race, the contestants had their first experience of fans recognizing them from being on TV, and had plenty of time to sign autographs and hand out merchandise before having the opportunity to meet Johnson in person. There was more on the race later in the show.

At this point there were only four performance slots left, with six contestants hoping to fill them. Alabama’s Brad Cotter, who now lives in Nashville, was called next. Like last week, he played the keyboard, and this time he sang a passionate version of “The Last Thing I Needed.” He also related the story of how he hadn’t been allowed to listen to anything but gospel music while he was growing up, but this song was one of the earliest ones he enjoyed and he used to sneak listening to it on his headphones. His performance earned him a standing ovation from Willie himself! Brett said, “When we were growing up we weren’t allowed to listen to anything but Christian music either. That performance was awesome, and if there’s a jukebox in heaven, I’m pretty sure Willie Nelson‘s on it.” Tracy said, “You are really becoming a front runner… watch the coffee in the morning, because if I were another contestant, I might poison it!”

Canada’s George Canyon was called up next. “I’ve been a Willie Nelson fan and he’s been a hero of mine for 28 years,” he said. His performance of “Seven Spanish Angels” also earned a standing ovation from Willie. “You’re like our resident Boy Scout,” Tracy said. “You’re steadfast, true, and we can always count on you for great performance.” Brad said, “I’d be willing to bet a couple million dollars of Sony’s money that there’s a couple million people who would buy your record.” When Nancy O’Dell asked George what he’d say to Willie, seeing him in the front row, he said, “Willie, please come up and sing with me!”

Next Nancy checked in with Willie to see what advice he would give to the contestants. “They’re all so good,” he replied. “I’m glad I’m not a judge!”

Then it was back to the Hot Spot segment for more coverage of the contestants’ visit to the Bristol Motor Speedway, where they sang “America the Beautiful” as paratroopers with an American flag made a picture-perfect landing on the track. “We watched the race from the best seats in the house,” Brad said. “Richard Petty watched from same place.” Lance added, “I kept thinking they’d ask me to leave, but they never did.” Jennifer commented on the dizzying pace and busy schedules the contestants keep each week. “You get exhausted, but you can’t whine because you’re dying to do it – and you might not get to do it next week!”

Jennifer Hicks was, in fact, the next contestant selected to take the stage, and her performance of “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” also earned a standing ovation from Willie. Billy said, “You belong on the show, and you showed it again tonight.” Brett said, “Jennifer, you cry more than Chris Cagle, but you’re America’s next sweetheart. I think you are awesome – you’re great.” “You can’t make a bad choice when you have the Willie catalog to choose from,” Tracy concluded, “but that was a great choice.”

Now there were only three contestants remaining – and just one performance slot. Nancy brought Marty Slayton, Brent Keith, and Sheila Marshall onto the stage, and they sweated it out through a commercial break.

When we returned, we learned that the first person we would say goodbye to this evening was Sheila Marshall. “You know I’m a big fan, and you have a bright future ahead of you,” Nancy told her. “Thank you, I love y’all, and thanks for your support,” Sheila said. “I want to thank the judges, Nashville Star and USA Network, everyone in Texas that voted, my husband, and my mom.”

Next, Nancy read the name of the final performer for the evening, and it was.. Brent Keith, meaning that Marty Slayton was also eliminated. “I’d like to say thanks to my family and friends and everybody back home,” she said. “I have a great life, and I get to do what I love to do for a living.”

Brent then launched into his performance of “The City of New Orleans,” saying that it always reminds him of his grandfather, who was a truck driver. “I don’t care if you’re pretty – you can sing,” Brad said. Tracy commented, “You did a good job on loosening up and having fun. You’ve got some work to do, but good job.” “Perfect ending,” Billy concluded.

SONG LIST:

Willie Nelson:
“Whiskey River”

Lance Miller:
“On The Road Again” – Willie Nelson

Matt Lindahl:
“Uncloudy Day” – Willie Nelson

Brad Cotter:
“The Last Thing I Needed” – Willie Nelson

George Canyon:
“Seven Spanish Angels” – Willie Nelson

Jennifer Hicks:
“Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” – Willie Nelson

Brent Keith:
“The City of New Orleans” – Willie Nelson

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