Editor’s note: Following Monday’s (June 9) premiere on NBC, the first episode of Nashville Star will re-air on CMT on Saturday (June 14) at 4 p.m. ET/PT. Future episodes will debut Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC and re-air Fridays at 8 p.m. on CMT.
Billy Ray Cyrus is delighted to host NBC’s Nashville Star this year — especially because he’s merely in charge of keeping the show moving, and not judging the amateur musicians. “Certainly, if they ask me advice, I’ll try to give them, to the best of my knowledge, what I can say to help them,” he says. “But thank goodness I’m not a judge. I could not judge these kids. I couldn’t break their little hearts and say mean things to them. I just couldn’t do that.”
That task falls instead to John Rich (of Big & Rich), Jewel and songwriter Jeffrey Steele. In addition, the season premiere featured a performance by Taylor Swift. Trace Adkins will perform on the episode debuting Monday (June 16) on NBC.
In this interview with CMT Insider, Cyrus talks about seeing himself in the contestants, taking shortcuts to fame and why he wishes Nashville Star had been around when he was paying his dues.
CMT: When they asked you to host Nashville Star, did you ever think, “Hmmm … maybe I don’t want to do that”?
Cyrus: I never questioned it. It came in and it just sounded right to me, and I think the first word — Nashville — just sounded right. It was pointing the right direction. … Nashville Star, when it goes live, it’s live, and I am quite certain I’m not gonna be the slickest host that ever hosted. I think I’m gonna be Billy Ray Cyrus from Flatwoods, Ky., right in the middle of Nashville Star and doing the best I can do to be a mentor to some of these young people.
Do you see some of yourself in these contestants?
I see a lot of myself. When I look in their eyes, I see that dream and I can see the desire. And knowing that, man, this is big stuff. They’re right on the path to their dream becoming a reality. It took mine 12 to 15 years to materialize. Unfortunately, there was a lot of heartbreak and a whole lot more lows than there were highs in that journey. I would have given anything if Nashville Star would have existed all those years I was up there playing four sets a night, five nights a week, at the Ragtime Lounge in Huntington, W.Va. Trust me, I would have much rather been live on NBC television, taking a good ol’ swing at my dream and singing my song right then. But it didn’t exist. So this is a great opportunity for these young people, and I’m glad I get to be in the middle of it. My thought on it is that I’ve been to the fair and I’ve seen the bear and I know the ups and the down and the highs and the lows. And if I can be any help to them at all, I’ll sure try and do that.
As somebody who had to do it the old-fashioned way, does it bother you to see that they have a shortcut, or are you happy for them?
I’m glad that it exists. I’m glad that NBC and Nashville Star are giving these kids a chance to make it happen now. And it still comes down to the bottom line — it’s about talent and it’s about a dream and combining the two. This is just a platform. In some ways, it is a shortcut, but you’ve gotta have the talent to make it to these finals. These final 12 contestants, they are very, very talented. You’re going to see that the bar has been raised in this type of competition. They’re standing on the cusp of making that dream a reality. It can happen over these next couple of months in Music City.
You also hosted the CMT Music Awards this year. Was that a good warm-up for Nashville Star?
It was a good opportunity to practice a little bit of live hosting. Any time you go through any type of an experience like this, you have to come out of it a better person and a little more knowledgeable. … When I watch back on that show, the things where I went off the teleprompter and just became myself are the things that I like the most. … I don’t care about seeing me read a teleprompter. I’m not that good of a reader. (laughs) I don’t really want to see me do that. I’m glad I had that experience, and what I learned from it is, for better or worse, just go out there and be yourself. Be real, and if it works, that’s great.
There’s no better example of that than you. People have been trying to make you into something else since day one.
I told a couple of [contestants] I passed in the hallway just a while ago — they were mentioning some of the advice that I’d given them about being yourself — and I said, “Guys, you gotta understand, when I’m talking to you, I’m basically talking to myself out loud. Everything I say to you, I’m saying to myself because I still live what you’re going through every single day.” It’s still about a dream for me. It’s still about a song. It’s still about the music. It’s still about if you get knocked down, get back up. It’s still all about that for me. Nothing’s changed.