HOT DISH: What Are We Gonna Do With All These Singers?

More New Acts Are Being Introduced While Short Playlists Rule at Radio

(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 hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

Will somebody please tell me what we’re gonna do with all these singers? There are only 60 slots on the Billboard country singles chart, and radio has a playlist that seems to get shorter and shorter. Could we maybe say there are two songs at each entry — two at No. 1, two at No. 2 … all the way down? That way we’d have 120 different artists singing 120 different songs in 120 slots. Makes sense to me.

But that doesn’t solve the radio dilemma, does it? There are those who say radio doesn’t care about these short playlists. I do love the folks at country radio, and I refuse to think of them as the enemy. But while these short playlists are a reality, there’s a lot of other things going on, too, that’s adding to the country music talent pool.

There’s American Idol in Hollywood, Nashville Star about to crank up again in Nashville and Can You Duet right here on CMT. Of course, everybody knows John Rich brought in a bunch of acts from other genres to compete on CMT’s Gone Country, and after a series of performances, Rich declared Julio Iglesias Jr. the winner. Not only that, but Rich has been sponsoring his very own talent contest at a Nashville nightclub.

And country’s hottest act, Kenny Chesney, has talent contests going on all across this great land of ours. Acts first audition at radio stations, and the winners will open his last three shows of 2008. Execs from Kenny’s record label will see the acts perform, and if they’re good enough … . (You know the end of that sentence.)

I ask you, where are we gonna put all these people? There’s not enough chart space now. And a friend of mine who was in Los Angeles told me the biggest radio station in town was playing classic Conway Twitty last week. Now, I love Conway Twitty, but playing his music ain’t solving the overload we’re facing on Music Row. How are we gonna program the music of all these up and comers?

There’s a whole list of performers ready to sing for the fans in June during the CMA Music Festival, and I am here to tell you I saw the blooming list and don’t know half the names. Then I read in newspapers and magazines about polls. A big fat waste of time, those polls. We don’t need any polls in country music. We need hits. Ask Kenny Chesney why he’s country’s hottest act, and he will tell you it’s the songs. Freaking polls have nothing to do with it. Polls didn’t give George Strait more No. 1 singles than any artist any more than it gave Lady Antebellum a No. 1 debut album. This is a song town. It’s all about great songs.

Something that’s way too modern for me is getting single records off the Internet. It confuses the daylights out of me. I have no idea how to do that. Besides, it sounds like to me that for every single that’s sold, some jack-leg shyster someplace is jiggling and finagling a computer to figure out a way to get music for nothing. That really ticks me off big time for some no-gooder to steal from my people.

I’ve always believed country music makes the world a better place. These days, I hear songs played on the radio that are not one bit country, and those songs are taking up space that should belong to country stars. How can country music make this world a better place when it’s being shoved off the air and off the charts by non-country acts?

Lastly, one of the worst mistakes ever made on Music Row is interns working in an A&R department where new songs are played and chosen and where new acts audition. These college students have not lived long enough to know about the subject matter of most country songs. More than likely all they know is, “That sounds like Britney” or “They could be another Jonas Brothers” or, worse, what might be referred to as sex and run. Why, they couldn’t hum a Merle Haggard song if their life depended on it and don’t know one Hank from the other. You have to live country songs, you have to love country songs and you have to have had a broken heart to know the difference between mediocrity and greatness. And believe you me, there’s a difference.

Willie News
Join hearts, hands and voices with me as we harmonize “Happy Birthday” to the inimitable Willie Nelson who turns 75 on April 30. Call it whatever you want, but I call Willie and his career a blessing to country music — the songs he’s written and sung, the concerts he’s performed, Farm Aid, the needy he’s helped and the lives of horses he’s saved. And now he’s standing up for cows. Willie has signed on to a campaign to warn consumers about the cruel and illegal conditions for calves raised to produce milk for dairy products. He knows we need healthy cattle to produce healthy milk.

For his 75th birthday, fan club members who send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Willie’s fan club address will receive a special guitar pick commemorating his 75th birthday. By the way, you can see the Willie at his annual Fourth of July picnic near San Antonio. God, since I know for a fact you’re still in the blessing business, please send big blessings down on Willie.

Capitol Happenings
Major headlines were made from Capitol Records where label president and CEO Mike Dungan rules from a glass-encased corner office. Lady Antebellum’s self-titled debut album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard‘s country chart. The new group has not only topped the charts, they are winning the hearts of the fans. And in the long run, that’s what matters. By now, lead singer Hillary Scott may be getting tired of folks like me saying she’s the daughter of singer Linda Davis and singer/producer Lang Scott.

There’s more big news from the Dungan estate, though. Platinum-selling Little Big Town just announced they will sign a multi-album contract with Capitol. As part of the deal, Capitol will acquire the group’s two previous albums from Equity Music Group — the Grammy-nominated The Road to Here (which has sold 1.3 million copies) and A Place to Land (released in November). Capitol plans to release a new single to radio immediately. Dungan expects the group’s career to explode, and so do I.

The Capitol Nashville roster is impressive with the always-hot Keith Urban, top-of-the-line Trace Adkins and the busiest and cutest man in show biz, Dierks Bentley, along with Luke Bryan, Chris Cagle, Eric Church, Jedd Hughes, Kenny Rogers and more.

Branson Calling
News of the annual Bluegrass and BBQ Festival at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., has got my toes tapping and my mouth watering. Nothing’s more all-American than an outdoor festival with the sounds of music and the smell of barbecue sizzling. Between the St. Louis ribs, chicken, Texas brisket and corn on the cob dripping with butter, you’ll hear the music of 50 bands such as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Rhonda Vincent and the Grascals More than 500 performances are scheduled when the event takes place May 10-June 1.

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