The country spin on "American Idol," "Nashville Star" is a fun competition with one defining difference: all the contestants must write and perform an original song. If previous seasons are any guide, the person with the best original song is usually the over-all winner. People who were doing okay suddenly seem special when you hear them deliver a great tune. Last night was no exception.
JOSHUA STEVENS -- a would-be singer's singer with choirboy looks, Joshua sang "Wish I Missed You," a song about his feelings for his birth mother who he hadn't seen since he was a little kid. She of course popped up once he hit TV and Joshua's friends said, 'Wow, you must have missed her' but he didn't because how can you miss someone you don't really know? Hence, his song. It was a much better story than the tune itself, which had an awkward melody and had him straining for his upper range. The judges seemed afraid to say anything negative about such a personal number. How can you kick an abandoned boy?
WHITNEY DUNCAN -- the blonde bombshell sadly burdened with being a hottie, something the hilariously direct judge Blake Shelton kept mentioning in his critiques. I'd say it kept dominating because nothing else about her was nearly as special. Her voice was okay, her playing was okay and her original song -- "Skinny Dippin' -- had a weak melody and a weak vocal performance. The least of all five and surely the one to go home next week.
ZAK HACKER -- the first of two siblings in the competition, Zak has been fun but never blown me away. His publishers and managers and everyone around him was pushing Zak to perform "Get Your Love On," a groovin' number similar to his jam band-ish vibe. But in taped interviews, host Jewel said it didn't show her anything new about him. Zak said the song he REALLY wanted to sing was "If It Wasn't For The Whiskey," a song about his dad who was plagued by drinking problems, sometimes beat his mom but who "If it wasn't for the whiskey, would have been a good man." His good ole boy dad was in the audience dressed in overalls and the camera never left pop as Zak sang his song, with pop raising his hand like he was in church and nodding and crying as Zak sang the number...which just happened to be terrific. It's hard to imagine anyone hearing this number and NOT insisting Zak sing it, it was such classic country. Suddenly, Zak seemed like a genuine artist.
DAVID ST. ROMAIN -- a pint-sized performer with a very good voice, Romain has always been a polished, smooth singer. His upbeat original was "That's Where I Wanna Be." A fun, punchy number, it started out sort of nondescript but gained momentum as it went along. Ultimately a much better performance than song, but it WAS a good performance.
ANGELA HACKER -- Zak's sister and the front runner since the show began, Angela has a Tanya Tucker vibe, a woman with a lived-in voice and a take-no-shit attitude. In fact, when it was announced that Angela had won the most votes the week before, she mouthed "Holy shit" as she and Romain hugged (he was in second place). You gotta love a gal who does that. She sang "Losing You Ain't A Total Loss," and like her brother's tune, it was a genuinely terrific song with a classic country vibe that fit perfectly with her been there-done that personality. It seems inevitable that the show will come down to Zak Vs. Angela with Angela winning it all.