Nashville Star
Credit: John Russell

I loved this episode of Nashville Star for many reasons. First and foremost, it was only an hour long. Secondly, host Billy Ray Cyrus showed a little bit of personality and I didn’t want to slap him (except for that hanging chad joke). Thirdly, the contestants started to bite back at the judges, who, let’s face it, had it coming. Let’s get right into it.

Melissa Lawson
This week was a double elimination, and Billy Ray opened the show by calling Melissa and Tommy Stanley forward. One had gotten the most votes; one was being sent home without even getting to perform his or her song. Bye bye, Tommy. Melissa sang “Danny’s Song,” and even though the beginning low notes weren’t perfect, this was my favorite performance from her. She was soft and not as showy as she usually is, so I could just focus on her voice. John Rich still wants her to work on her nerves, and Jewel wants to make sure that Melissa, her husband, and her five boys are ready for the sacrifices that they’ll be making for the music business. Bring it on, Melissa said. (Okay, I’m paraphrasing.)

Laura & Sophie (pictured)
My favorite moment of the night involved Sophie, but it didn’t happen during their predictable performance of Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.” It happened at the end of the show, when Jewel was rambling on about how it killed her that Pearl Heart was in the bottom two with Ashlee Hewitt instead of Laura & Sophie: Sophie rolled her eyes. You go, girl! If the judges, who put you on the show, keep telling you that you need to go home because you’re too young, ACT IT. I’m not saying that the girls, ages 18 and 16, didn’t deserve the boot — and that they shouldn’t go next week after that awkward bluesy burlesque ending they attempted. But I think the girls might’ve been set up. The pre-performance footage showed them fighting and crying, which just fueled Rich’s rant. (Kudos to Sophie, again, for explaining to him that just because she cried over fighting with her best friend doesn’t mean that she’d cry over an unfriendly crowd.) We weren’t shown whether judge/mentor Jeffrey Steele chose their song for them again this week, but regardless, he should have known that they wouldn’t pull off the “Walkin'” choreography. Those girls need to sit on a stool for a week and concentrate on their harmonies. At least the makeup artist was on their side this week.

After the jump, Shawn fires John, and John takes aim at Coffey (again).

Gabe Garcia
Once again, I liked him, but I thought the judgeslet him off easy. Jewel wanted him to sing Keith Urban’s “Somebody LikeYou” like a tiger, waiting to pounce on the audience. But at times(like when he moved away from the mic stand to work the crowd), hestill looked like a scared cub. John commented on Melissa’s nerves, butnot Gabe’s? Come on, now. He thought Gabe’s performance was hot? Thatdance lesson Gabe took paid off in him occasionally stompinghis left foot! John needs to stop the air-drumming, and judge what he’sactually seeing. Jeffrey, too. He would’ve given Gabe a 10? It was morelike a 7. Jewel was sane: She acknowledged that he needs to keepstepping (and smiling) it up.

Shawn Mayer
I love this girl. Not for what she did onstage, but for what she did off of it: Fire John Rich. He suggested they part ways after she explained that she doesn’t enjoy his mentoring sessions, which consist of him telling her how much she sucks. He understood and told her to call Jeffrey, who does seem like a better fit for her emotions. Jeffrey wants her to use those tears in her songs, and I sorta felt them when she sang “The First Cut is the Deepest.” John, however, did not. He would’ve scored it a 5 out of 10. I think song selection is the key for Shawn, and though this was better than last week’s “Breathe,” she still hasn’t found what I’m she’s looking for. She can’t be a mini Gretchen Wilson, but the tomboy we met the first week of Nashville Star wouldn’t be wearing those short dresses either.

John admits he himself is the last one who should be worrying about whether someone is “country,” but he can’t himself when it comes to Coffey. He likened Coffey’s performance of “Proud Mary” to a magician waving his one had so you wouldn’t see what he’s doing with the other. John asked Coffey whether he could go onstage with Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, or George Strait. Maybe if/when we get to hear an original song we’ll have our answer: Does Coffey write country songs? I’ve said it every week: I think his smooth runs would be something fresh for the genre, so I’m hoping the answer is yes. Jeffrey, who admitted it was Coffey’s best performance since Night 1, says he wants to see “less hype and more pipes” next week, but I think Coffey had the balance last night. Unlike when so many Idols venture into the crowd, Coffey was confident and at home (even with that unfortunate rooster dance). I do agree with Jewel though — he does need to sing a ballad next week and show some heart.

Ashlee Hewitt
This week Ashlee went from being a mini Jewel to being a mini Miranda Lambert. She didn’t know what to sing, so John suggestedSteve Miller Band’s “Take the Money and Run.” On first viewing, I was on Team Jeffrey: I thought it seemed forced. But I watched it again, and I started to dig it. Yeah, there was a bum note early on, but she didn’t let it stop her barefoot party. (Why do people need to sing barefoot? It’s that hard to find comfortable shoes?) John says she’ll make it to the end of the competition; Jewel says she’s one of the few singers on the show who feels like an artist. It’s true, you do feel like the words are coming through her and not as though she’s reciting them. I’m still not buying her, but I’m in the store…

Pearl Heart
This was a painful elimination because last night’s performance of Garth Brooks’ “Ain’t Goin’ Down (Til the Sun Comes Up)” was not only their best, but also arguably the best performance of the season. They sounded tight. The looked great, strapped into electric guitars and skinny pants. And they were having so much fun that even Courtney registered a zero on the awkward scale. These girls will definitely have a future in country music, after they bake a bit. They went out on a high note… after Billy Ray made them stand in 25 SECONDS of silence before he announced their name. Seriously, someone in his earpiece counts it down, right? So painful.

Who should go home next week? And who should win it all?

Nashville Star
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