”Country music didn’t buy that one,” Bobby Brown jokes, after you admire a diamond ring he’s wearing. ”Country music gonna buy the next two.”
Actually, he may not be kidding.
Brown is one of the seven artists competing on CMT’s new reality show, Gone Country, (Fridays at 8 p.m., starting Jan. 25). For two weeks last October, he — along with Carnie Wilson, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, American Idol‘s Diana DeGarmo, Sisqó, Julio Iglesias Jr., and The Brady Bunch‘s Maureen McCormick — lived together in the 28,000-square-foot log cabin outside of Nashville known as the Plowboy Mansion. Show host John Rich, country hitmaker and half of the genre-defying duo Big & Rich, hooked each of them up with a set of Music Row’s top songwriters. The goal: Each singer would co-write a country track that they’d perform for a Nashville crowd. The prize: After Rich selects the winner, he produces the single, and sends it to country radio.
Earlier this week, EW.com sat down with Brown, Wilson, and Rich at Vynl diner in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. It was the first time they’d seen each other since filming the show, and they had a lot to catch up on: the health of Granny Rich, whom the cast met when they had to use her recipes to cook Rich’s MuzikMafia family a Southern meal; the miraculous recovery of the little girl whose mother sobbed in Brown’s arms the day the cast visited the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital (Bobby hadn’t heard the news, though Wilson swears she left him a message); and the hospitality of Gretchen Wilson, who put the cast to work on her ranch for a day and sent them — or Carnie and Bobby, at least — a bottle of Jack Daniel’s afterwards. (Brown: ”I wanted to drink it so bad. I was just lookin’ at it like—” Wilson: ”You?! What about me?! Goddamn it.”)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: [To Wilson and Brown] How much did you guys know before you arrived in Nashville?
BOBBY BROWN: We knew we were gonna be living in a house with other artists. That’s all. We didn’t even know who was on the show, so when we first see each other, we’re actually first seeing each other.
Was your entrance [stepping off a private plane while the others, already on the tour bus, look on] your idea, Bobby?
BROWN: Yeah, well, you know. [Laughs] You gotta come with it.
JOHN RICH: He’s Bobby Damn Brown.
So they had no idea they’d be writing a song and performing it.
RICH: I almost didn’t do [the show] because I’ve seen Hollywood screw up what Nashville’s about so many times that I was not gonna be a part of it. It was a lot of conference calls with the production company and CMT about the concept of this show. I said, ”I’m okay with you guys makin’ them do some goofy stuff every now and then, but the root of this show has to be about music. I want them to have to write their own song.” They said, ”Well, that’ll be fine. We’ll give them a couple hours one afternoon to write a song,” and I said, ”No, no, no, no. We’re gonna give them several hours on several days to work on writing them songs, and on top of that, I want you to allow me to hook them up with songwriting teams that I have written with personally. Let me give them a real opportunity to try to write a great song.” Because a great song can overcome an image barrier, it can overcome a talent barrier. Hopefully the cast appreciated the fact that it was based around the music ultimately, and that you didn’t have to sacrifice your integrity to be on this show.
CARNIE WILSON: When I found out we were gonna be writing, I was nervous. But I was relieved, because you know what, now we’re talkin’ the real s—. And I knew they weren’t gonna write a song for me. I was gonna lend something to the writing process. So there was pressure, but I was so glad that it was that.
RICH: To write a song, it’s pulling the white rabbit out of a top hat. That’s the magic. That’s the part you can’t make up. Anybody on the cast can perform it. But to take a blank piece of paper, and put something on it that means something to you and that can translate to an audience and mean something to them, that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax. And I’ve never seen that on a reality show before.
BROWN: Not even American Idol.
RICH: That’s what American Idol lacks is that originality. They’re singing covers, so they don’t have to come up with it themselves and be a real artist at that point. Not to take anything away from them, because they’ve had some incredible talent. That’s why you see Daughtry doing so well. He writes his own stuff. He’s a real artist. Some of them do really well, and some of them fall by the wayside, and I think it comes down to that creative process on who makes it and who doesn’t.
So about the show’s toilet-seat toss contest…
RICH: [Laughs] That has nothing to do with making great country music. That just shows if you’ve got a good personality or not. If you can put up with some silliness.
WILSON: I can tell you this: There was a burping contest with root beer. And I was so mad, I could not get any burp out. And the girl next to me barfed on her microphone. She went to burp and she went [vomit noise]. I peed in my pants a little bit, ’cause I laughed so hard. I didn’t tell anybody. [All laugh]
NEXT PAGE: ”The cameras were everywhere but in the toilet, literally, and so, the last day, I totally flashed the camera…. I was like, I don’t care anymore. The t–ties are comin’ out! So I cannot imagine if you gave me a martini. Woohoo!”