Look, I had very little faith in a show called “Real Country” when it was first announced, especially when the judges were Travis Tritt, Jake Owen and Shania Twain – an odd pairing if there ever was one.
But if I’ve learned anything from years of writing album reviews, it’s that you can’t judge something without giving it a try first. Sure enough, “Real Country” just may be a show that’s worth the attention.
For those who don’t know how it works, the judges each have their own teams. Three contestants from each team compete against each other every week for a chance to win a prize. I don’t know if the prizes will differ every week, but this week, the prize was $10,000 and a performance slot at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in 2019. There are two rounds. Round one consists of the contestants performing solely for audience approval. Round two is essentially the same, only the judges also get a vote. This week, country duo Big & Rich were brought onto the judging panel as special guests.
Now, the fact that Tritt, Owen and Twain differ significantly stylistically may actually be a good thing, as each of the contestants differed too, adding more variety to the show.
Twain’s pick of the Young Fables was my favorite one of the night. Singer Laurel Wright and singer and guitarist Wes Lunsford were the most naturally talented, with Wright bringing impeccable vocal performances to Emmylou Harris’ “Two Bottles of Wine” in the first round. Thankfully, they moved onto the second round after receiving four out of five stars from the audience.
Owen’s pick matched his style, although they were the weakest of the bunch to me. Adairs Run actually have talent as vocalists, and they definitely connected with the audience. The problem is that they sounded like pretty much every other male artist/duo/group in Nashville right now. They did well on David Lee Murphy’s “Dust On The Bottle,” but as Twain and Tritt pointed out, they needed to channel their influences into something more unique. After receiving 3.3 stars from the audience, they were eliminated (as the next contestants scored higher than they did).
Tritt’s pick almost made too much sense for him – a swaggering country-meets southern-rock-meets-soul hybrid named Copper Chief. Now, I definitely thought these guys had a ton of raw energy that contributed to some really fun performances of Rodney Crowell’s “Ain’t Living Long Like This” and Dierks Bentley’s “What Was I Thinkin’. ” With that said, I’d be curious to hear them in a studio setting, because while they were good, the appeal seemed more to come from their stage antics than anything else.
But, it doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what the fans and the judges think, and sure enough, Copper Chief beat out the Young Fables with a score of 4.6 to their 3.9 in the second round.
As a fellow critic, I thought the judges actually offered more critical advice than anyone expected them to. Both Twain’s and Tritt’s comments toward Adairs Run were fair and true. As fellow artists themselves who likely heard harsher comments when they rose up, it allows for an environment where they help artists instead of sugarcoating their comments or being unnecessarily harsh toward them. The banter between the judges and the contestants was also quite humorous.
Overall, I was very impressed by the debut episode of “Real Country” and don’t really have anything negative to say about it. I felt engaged by the performances and felt like I was sitting right next to the judges deciding for myself what I thought about the contestants. I was turned onto some really cool new music as well, which is one of the best feelings in the world. Considering names like Tony Jackson, Bri Bagwell and Kylie Frey (among others) are set to premiere in future episodes, there’s definitely reason to keep tuning in. “Real Country” airs on USA Network on Tuesdays at 10/9 central.