HOT DISH: Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts Top a Year of Country

The Past 12 Months Have Been More Than Kind to Country Music and Its Artists

(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.)

This year has been more than kind to country music and its artists. When you think about those who have a lot to be thankful for in their careers, Carrie Underwood has to be at the top of the list.

Carrie’s debut CD, Some Hearts, went quadruple platinum, she won the Horizon and female vocalist trophies at the CMA Awards and walked away with five honors at the Billboard Music Awards. At the moment, she’s up for a couple of Grammys and is entertaining our troops in the Persian Gulf. Still, there’s nothing better than recognition from the homefolks, and Carrie was named Oklahoman of the Year.

Rascal Flatts enjoyed several milestones, including being the only act of any musical genre to sell more than 3 million copies of a CD released in 2006. They filled the concert seats with screaming fans and filled their mantles with awards.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul2Soul Tour 2006 generated more than $80 million in ticket sales. Tim became quite the movie star, and the couple proved marriage can work in Music City.

Following a 10-year struggle, Rodney Atkins topped both the single and album charts with “If You’re Going Through Hell.” Rodney has a bright future ahead.

Kenny Chesney fans came to tailgate, party and sing along, and Kenny’s girlfriend is a model named Vanessa who is way cuter than any Hollywood chick that ever cozied up to him. Gaining some real music experience, Kenny and longtime producer Buddy Cannon are producing Willie Nelson’s new album. What a way for Kenny to end a very successful 2006.

During his 25th year of making women swoon and filling concert halls, King George Strait continued breaking records in sales and on the charts. He scored the biggest honor of all when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame with fellow inductees Sonny James and Harold Bradley.

Hitmaker Dierks Bentley’s golden good looks, nice guy personality, killer songwriter’s pen and energetic stage performances have catapulted his career to the next level in 2006. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.

My dear friend Brad Paisley is headlining concerts, writing and singing hits, recording award-winning albums and playing guitar as good as anybody on the planet. He and his beautiful wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, are gonna have a baby in February. I’d say 2006 has been a banner year for Brad.

Plumb perfect Vince Gill dared to be different when he released a four-disc, 43-song package containing songs he wrote or co-wrote in the country, bluegrass, pop, jazz and gospel genres. Nobody except Vince has the talent to write, sing, play and produce such an array of music. He called the album These Days. Don Imus featured Vince a couple times on his Imus in the Morning radio show that’s simulcast on MSNBC. And even when Vince is not around, Imus plays selections from the CD on a regular basis. The multi-genre CD just went platinum, and Vince has agreed to extend his tour into March.

Brooks & Dunn had a stellar 2006. Ronnie Dunn has platinum tonsils, but he also co-wrote my favorite song of the year, the wonderful “Believe” with Craig Wiseman. Meanwhile, partner Kix Brooks became host of ABC Radio’s American Country Countdown. They were again named the CMA’s duo of the year, an award they’ve won so many times I’ve lost count, and they continue to fill concert halls. Their manager, Clarence Spalding, is the coolest on Music Row. Like Dunn, Spalding drives an Escalade, and Brooks tools around town in a Porsche. Ain’t no money like hillbilly money.

Several bright stars are on the horizon, so I wager it’s time to turn the page. Kellie Pickler blew me away on American Idol and continues to take my breath away as a singer and as a star. The first time I heard the Albemarle, N.C., native sing on Idol, I e-mailed Joe Galante and Renee Bell at Sony BMG and pleaded for them to sign Pickler. When she was dropped from the Idol competition, I quit watching the show and e-mailed Joe and Renee a second time, but they were already bird-dogging Kellie. Mark my word. Kellie, like Carrie Underwood last year, will be bigger than any other 2006 Idol entry.

Another bright star, Chris Young, a native of Murfreesboro, Tenn., is headed down the hillbilly highway with a hat and a grin. The Nashville Star winner is not even dry behind his ears, but he sings the praises of his granddad who taught him to love country music and his musical hero, Marty Robbins. I’m really impressed with Chris who came to my kitchen and taped an episode of CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks.

From the silver screen to my kitchen, Lindsey Haun did a great job in her role in Toby Keith’s movie, Broken Bridges. She was a genuine doll when she guested on Southern Fried Flicks, too. We had a ball. She says she loves Toby and enjoyed the guest appearances she made during his concert tour. Needless to say, she also loved being in the movie with Toby, Willie Nelson and Burt Reynolds. The movie premiered Friday (Dec. 15) on CMT, and the DVD will be released Jan. 9. The California-born Lindsey is in the studio with producer Randy Scruggs for an album to be released by Toby’s Show Dog label.

Josh Turner enjoyed his second platinum CD success, and he and his wife became parents of a son.

On a personal note, my family means the world to me, and we’ve got a lot to be thankful for. When we surprised my son, Billy, with a 50th birthday party at the Station Inn, friends and family came from Michigan, North Carolina and Missouri. Stars like the great Earl Scruggs and the Del McCoury Band performed. Three hours of great music. My son, Terry, and his group, the Grascals, won the IBMA’s entertainer of the year, and their album, Long List of Heartaches is up for a Grammy.

Writing this column for CMT.com is a favorite chore for me. It keeps me up on the news and close to the fans. Of course, I am proud be hosting CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith that airs every other Sunday night. God has blessed my boys and me.

The Whites Honored in Hometown
The Whites, the first family of the Grand Ole Opry, were surprised Dec. 9 when they returned to their roots in Greenwood, Ark., with the Skaggs Family Christmas show. Booked at the Arkansas Performing Arts Center, Buck, Sharon and Cheryl White were the first artists inducted into the venue’s Performing Arts Hall of Fame. Buck and the girls were also presented trophies in recognition of the Buck White and the White Family Scholarship Fund for Performing Arts to assist local students in furthering their musical education.

At the concert, audience members on the right side of the stage facing Sharon were her friends and schoolmates. And facing Cheryl on the left were her friends and classmates. The principal and his wife went to high school with the White girls. Of course, everybody cried. Shoot, I bawled while trying to write this.

FYI: Sharon White is married to Ricky Skaggs. Hence the Skaggs Family Christmas concert.

News
Singer-songwriter Shannon Brown and her hubby, video director Shaun Silva, are the proud parents of a son, Tanner Benjamin Silva.

Charlie Daniels will be in Tampa, Fla., on New Year’s Day to perform the national anthem during the Outback Bowl.

Some 750,000 lucky fans in 87 cities enjoyed Brad Paisley’s Time Well Wasted tour which ended in Chicago. The after-show party was catered by Giordano’s, maker of Brad’s favorite deep dish pizza in the Windy City. Brad has been known to travel several hundred miles out of the way for a slice from Giordano’s.

“Anyway,” is Martina McBride’s fastest rising single. Did you know Martina co-wrote the song with the Warren Brothers?

Down with a bad back, Richie McDonald got out of the bed to perform with the other members of Lonestar at the annual Parade of Pennies concert at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon. Also appearing were Little Big Town, Josh Turner and Rodney Adkins.

Also at the Wildhorse, Trick Pony recorded their last album with lead vocalist Heidi Newfield, who has announced plans for a solo career. The trio’s concert album is expected to be released next year.

I heard that Wynonna’s sister, actress Ashley Judd, was recently denied access to a Southwest Airlines flight out of Raleigh, N.C., after she tried to board the plane with her dog.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Strawberry Pretzel Salad.