HOT DISH: Taylor Swift Happy With Her Atypical Teenage Life

Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney Sugarland and Ashton Shepherd Also in the News

(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

Most high school grads received their diploma while wearing caps and gowns, but not Taylor Swift. While Taylor’s Hendersonville, Tenn., classmates were receiving theirs, she was onstage someplace playing guitar and singing. So she got her diploma in the mail. She attended the ninth and 10th grade at a public high school, but when her career took off, she switched to a private Christian school that offers homeschooling.

When I heard the 18-year-old Taylor received her diploma from the postman, I wondered if she felt she missed out by not graduating with her high school class. As I’ve been told, Taylor thinks she had the best senior year she could have had. She’s still keeping in close touch with her pal, Abigail, her best friend through high school and to this day.

Among Taylor’s other friends are Miley Cyrus and Kellie Pickler, but she says she doesn’t get to hang out very often with Miley because of their conflicting schedules on the road and in Tennessee and California. Taylor became friends with Kellie while they were opening shows for Brad Paisley, and the two blondes have now even written a song together.

FYI: I’m also told that Taylor is friends with all three of the Jonas Brothers — not just one!

Celebration for Alan Jackson?
I don’t know for sure what all the celebrating is about, but I know a real biggie is coming up on Aug. 13 honoring Alan Jackson. Alan recently passed the 50-million mark in his record sales, so maybe that’s what it’s about. The shy, tall Alan is the same guy I met 20 years ago. Is there any male artist around today who’s man enough to write and sing hits like this Newnan, Ga., native? For the life of me, I see nobody who can fill Alan’s boots.

Has Kenny Chesney Boosted Sugarland’s CD Sales?
Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland has been trotting out often to Kenny Chesney shows because her honey is K.C.’s guitar player, Clayton Mitchell. Kenny, sweetheart that he is, gave Jennifer guest slots on his shows, and she’d bring down the house with Sugarland’s “Stay.” Do you think this helped the duo’s CD sales? I do.

Sugarland’s new album, Love on the Inside, racked up first-week sales of 314,000. That hasn’t happened since the heyday of Garth, Shania and the Dixie Chicks. Sugarland, it’s sweet to debut at No. 1 on the country chart.

Ashton Shepherd Stays on Track
So many stars aren’t artists. Several walk on the stage, sing their songs and smile but then sneer as they depart the stage and head for the dressing room or bus where they become a jerk. They couldn’t write a song if their life depended on it. They can’t play an instrument with their two cold hands, yet they are making a living as a singer. Offstage, they give orders, whisper ugly remarks about other artists and dislike anything and everything that occurs.

I’m happy to report that this does not describe Ashton Shepherd. I’m told when Ashton finishes a show, she heads for the dressing room or to her bus with her guitar and continues to pick and sing. She has no time for gossip. I was not surprised to learn these facts. Ashton is a real artist. She’s here for the music. We are lucky to have her.

Shut Up About Nashville Star
Those of us — including myself — who have been critical of this season of Nashville Star, just shut up! With the field narrowing down to three, I watched closely and saw three great performers: Melissa Lawson, Gabe Garcia and Shawn Mayer.

Melissa Lawson, mother of five young boys, is as good as any singer on Music Row. The Texas native deserves to win, and it could happen unless fans are voting on skinny acts. Melissa sang the daylights out of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and made it her song.

I was tuned in the night Garcia sang the great Whitey Shafer-penned “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” and he blew me away with his performance. Like Strait, the Garcia boy is pure Texas country.

Jason Michael Carroll
For the first time since April, Jason Michael Carroll is spending an entire week in Nashville. The Carolina boy has been all over the place performing at festivals, opening shows for Carrie Underwood and soon to be out with Martina McBride. While he’s in town this week, Jason won’t be sitting around, though. He’ll be in the recording studio.

Lord knows, Hollywood will never be the same. I see where Brooks & Dunn will be getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday (Aug. 4).

Reba McEntire is hosting a new PBS show this fall, Toddling Toward Reading.

Miley Cyrus sold 371,000-plus copies of her new album, Breakout, to debut at No. 1 on the pop charts.

I’m so proud of Hank Williams Jr., whose “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” will be ABC’s Monday Night Football theme song for a 19th year.

And I’m proud that this is Faith Hill’s second year to perform the opening theme for Sunday Night Football on NBC.

Terri Clark will host the Canadian Country Music Awards on Sept. 8.

The hottest act in show biz, Kenny Chesney, will perform at this year’s Farm Aid concert taking place Sept. 20 near Boston with pals Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, as well as Neil Young and Dave Matthews. Once it was announced that Kenny was appearing, tickets sold out the next day. Only Kenny can walk the walk and talk the talk.

American Idol country finalist Kristy Lee Cook, signed to Sony BMG, got engaged to a dude from the Northwest near her home. No name was given to me.

Trisha Yearwood is the latest star to wear a milk moustache in the “Got Milk?” campaign.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Coconut Cake.