HOT DISH: Is Superstardom in Sight for Blake Shelton?

Rascal Flatts Topping the Charts, Terri Clark on the Verge of Signing New Record Deal

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

Blake Shelton has the makings of becoming a superstar — hillbilly royalty in the category of, say, Alan Jackson or George Strait. The long-lasting, hat-wearing, good looking, good singing kind of act that makes you proud to be a lover of country music. The Ada, Okla., native is country true and has no crossover aspirations. Lord knows, that’s hard to come by in this day and time.

I’d like to see Shelton’s hits coming more consistently. Maybe there should be more focus on songs. An act like Blake needs a partner, so to speak. For instance, King George has leaned on the hit songwriting of Dean Dillon, while that Jackson boy has become quite the poet himself. However, Alan leans on producer Keith Stegall in the recording studio.

Successful artists like George and Alan know their strength and are not ashamed to admit their needs. I’ve heard the Strait man brag on Dillon’s songs, and I’ve heard Alan say, “I sat down with my guitar, played the song for Keith, and he took it and made it come out the way it did.” He was describing “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” Giving credit is good when credit is due.

Taking the Music Row heat off the Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman relationship, Blake recently signed divorce papers from his wife, Kaynette. Before the ink dried, there were rumors he was seeing talented newcomer Miranda Lambert, especially after he showed up to perform with her at the Grand Ole Opry.

Who knows if the rumors are true, but people change. They have a change of mind, change of heart and change partners. Johnny Cash had to have June Carter, George Jones had to have Tammy Wynette, Carl Smith had to have Goldie Hill and Tim McGraw had to have Faith Hill — and vice versa. We still scratch our heads over why Prince Charles had to have that ghastly Camilla Parker Bowles, but they’re in another country altogether!

Rascal Flatts’ Three-Chart Success
Rascal Flatts’ new CD, Me and My Gang, scanned over 1 million units in two weeks to make it the highest-selling country title so far in 2006. With Me and My Gang resting atop the country albums airplay chart as well as the Billboard 200 chart which tracks all musical genres, Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most” is also No. 1 on the country sales charts. Without a doubt, they are the hottest group on the road today.

Changing producers mid-music was a daring thing for the already successful trio, but with more than 721,000 copies sold during the first week alone, they know it was the right decision. Producer Dann Huff, a Nashville native who is the son of gospel music arranger and conductor Ron Huff, was already playing guitar on recording sessions when he was in his teens. Before recording a note, Dann went on the road with the Rascals to get a feel of their live show which he integrated into the record. Dann pushed the guys in the studio, giving them an extra bit of confidence. By doing so Gary LeVox sang better, bassist Jay DeMarcus worked harder and, according to Joe Don Rooney, Dann also pushed him to be a better guitar player.

And you know what? It shows on the tracks and in the numbers. During its second week in stores, sales of Me and My Gang hit 344,594 and prevented Toby Keith a No. 1 debut with his new album, White Trash With Money. With impressive sales of 329,647, Toby’s first album for his own Show Dog label bolted in at No. 2.

Remembering Debbie
Debbie Logue was Hal Durham’s assistant at the Opry for many years. Every artist who appeared knew Debbie as the girl who sat onstage and documented the performers. A single mom, Debbie was most proud of Julia and Neal, her two adopted children. Debbie died April 13 following a battle with cancer. All who knew Debbie respected her, especially the late Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe.

Stuff and More Stuff
Terri Clark has a new record deal with a major label, but I promised not to tell where. Stay tuned.

Time Warner reports sales of over 1 million copies of the Hee Haw DVD. It goes to prove what I’ve been trying to tell people here in Nashville: We need country comedy. It’s a fun show to sit, relax and laugh with.

A concert will be held at Hendersonville High School near Nashville on May 1 to benefit tornado victims of Sumner County, Tenn. Confirmed acts include Lorrie Morgan, Kelly Lang, T.G. Sheppard, the Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, the Whites, Connie Smith and the Del McCoury Band. Ralph Emery will serve as host.

Thank you, Charlie Daniels, for going where I cannot go — to Baghdad and other warring spots in Iraq to entertain those troops with an American flag on their shoulder. I hate the war, but I dearly love and pray for each one in the armed services.

Jo Dee Messina either has a lot of intestinal fortitude or female stubborn determination. Either way, she finished the 110th annual Boston Marathon in 5 hours, 47 minutes even though she blew out her knee halfway through the race. Joe Dee said she spent a lot of time in first aid tents getting sprayed with liquid aspirin, but she accomplished what she set out to do. “I’ll be back,” promised Jo Dee.

Nonstop Willie Nelson, who turns 73 on April 30, is set to hold his 33rd annual Fourth of July picnic at the Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas. Filling the bill are Asleep at the Wheel, Billy Joe Shaver and Ray Price. That’s enough, but there’ll be more acts announced later.

News reached me that Brent Maher will return as Wynonna’s record producer. Maher was the man who discovered the Judds and was the one who took the duo to RCA, where they were signed.

For the second year, Vince Gill will host the Academy of Country Music’s Celebrity Golf Classic in Las Vegas on May 22.

Lee Ann Womack claims you cannot find a plumber on Easter Sunday. Explaining that she was only away from her house for about 30 minutes, she says, “When I returned, my kitchen floor was covered in red water that had also spilled into the living room.” Seems Lee Ann bought a cute red rug for the front of the sink … but the sink overflowed and colored her floor. Lee Ann and daughter Anna sopped up the mess best they could with towels. Didn’t Lee Ann once do TV commercials for Sparkle paper towels?

Asked to choose his favorite song by Elvis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis responded with Elvis’ “All Shook Up,” Carl’s “Blue Suede Shoes,” Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” and Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” The Killer’s fave of his own recordings is his version of Hank Williams’ “You Win Again.”

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Chicken Parmigiana.