HOT DISH: The Best and Worst of 2008

Kenny Chesney, Jamey Johnson, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood All Had a Great Year

(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

What is the best thing that’s crossed my desk this year? The image of Kenny Chesney and Willie Nelson, smiling after singing together in the studio, was tied with Jamey Johnson’s great album, That Lonesome Song. Johnson’s album contains the powerful “In Color,” a song that still makes me cry. Kenny and King George Strait’s no-frills “Shift Time” was also great.

One of the worst oversights of 2008 was when new Country Music Hall of Fame inductees Emmylou Harris, Tom T. Hall, the Statler Brothers and Ernest “Pop” Stoneman were not recognized during the CMA Awards telecast. If any of these artists had been pop stars who crossed over to country, the telecast would have shown their videos and all their husbands, wives and affairs — plus how much money they had in the bank.

And also regarding the CMA Awards, I suppose it was the fault of the CMA voters that Rascal Flatts were not in the running for the entertainer of the year prize. I suggest we all kick ourselves for this oversight.

Some of the Best
One of the best things in music continues to be Taylor Swift, now 19, who acts her age but writes songs like a pro. Taylor sold more records than any other artist in country music in 2008. Coming in second in overall sales is Carrie Underwood, who holds the torch as the most-played artist — male or female — on country radio. The Okie sweetheart’s “Just a Dream” was CMT’s top music video, while “All-American Girl” made her the most-streamed on, with more than 1.4 million streams served. Taylor Swift’s “Our Song” was No. 1 for streams on CMT Mobile and CMT’s video on demand.

Also at country radio, Brad Paisley was the leading male artist in terms of airplay, and Montgomery Gentry became the most-played duo of 2008.

Three tall men held my attention this year because they’re best: Alan Jackson, Trace Adkins and James Otto. Once again, Alan hit a home run with his latest album, Good Time, which contained the singles “Small Town Southern Man,” “Good Time” and “Country Boy.” Seeing another real man on The Celebrity Apprentice and hearing his smash hit, “You’re Gonna Miss This,” Trace’s star began burning hotter than ever. Lastly, the most played country single of the year, Otto’s “Just Got Started Loving You,” was achingly great.

Another best happened in February when Rascal Flatts album, Feels Like Today, was certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA and Carrie Underwood’s “Some Hearts” was certified seven-times platinum. Love that hillbilly bling.

The best for the Tennessee film industry happened when Miley Cyrus and dad Billy Ray Cyrus came home to shoot the upcoming Hannah Montana movie. Also, the Billy Graham biopic, Billy: The Early Years, was shot in the area. More, more, more — we need more movies.

At the ACM Awards in Las Vegas in May, Kenny Chesney picked up his fourth ACM entertainer of the year trophy, and Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood were presented the top male and top female awards. Rascal Flatts accepted the top group honor, and the wonderful Miranda Lambert took home the album of the year award for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood hosted the CMA Awards in Nashville in November and were named male and female vocalist of the year. Kenny Chesney was the CMA’s entertainer of the year for the fourth time. Rascal Flatts claimed the group of the year prize, and George Strait picked up trophies for album of the year (Troubadour) and single of the year (“I Saw God Today”). Brad Paisley was presented the well-deserved video of the year award for “Waitin’ on a Woman.” Featuring Andy Griffith, it may be the best video ever.

In July, Tim McGraw wrapped his 34-day run — playing for a half-million fans and grossing $20 million at the box office. In November, he hosted Saturday Night Live. And, of course, wife Faith Hill’s Joy to the World was the most popular holiday CD in 2008 — because it is the best holiday album of the year.

More Good Stuff of 2008
Brenda Lee and the late Gene Autry were announced as recipients of the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented in February in Los Angeles.

Always one of the best, Loretta Lynn was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York City in June.

The prettiest couple in show biz, superstar Keith Urban and wife Nicole Kidman, became the parents of a baby daughter they named Sunday Rose. Isn’t that the very best!

Congratulations, too, to Dierks and Cassidy Bentley on the birth of their daughter, Evie. Ditto to the Grascals’ Jamie Johnson and wife for the arrival of the son they’ve nicknamed Cole Train.

Since releasing his first album in 1990, it was announced in July that Alan Jackson had sold 50 million of the best country records ever made.

We smiled when Rascal Flatts performed at the Sommet Center in Music City and gave every cent to the Monroe Carrel Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt — almost $1 million. God bless your good hearts.

In October, news reached me that Disney had started Carolwood Records, a country imprint that will be the sister label of Lyric Street Records. Jessica Andrews is the first signee.

My dear friend Little Jimmy Dickens celebrated 60 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. It gets no better than that.

Carrie Underwood, Craig Morgan and Charlie Daniels were inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry.

Reba McEntire, one of the best female singers, signed with the Valory Music Company.

The greatest singer who ever lived, George Jones, received the highest award of his career when he became a recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor.

Our dear friend Kenny “The Best” Chesney, who has been awarded and awarded just about everywhere else, received his first Grammy nomination.

Thanks to some more of the best, Kellie Pickler, Kid Rock and the Zac Brown Band who returned to the U.S. on Dec. 20 after completing a USO Tour.

Some Major Losses
All of Music Row wept when the great Eddy Arnold passed away on May 8. A few days later, legendary gospel singer-songwriter Dottie Rambo died in a tour bus accident near Springfield, Mo.

We wept again in September when we lost Jerry Reed, one of the finest singers, songwriters, guitarists and actors to ever emerge in country music. Reed was the absolute best.

In My Mailbox
Joe Don Rooney and wife Tiffany sent out holiday cards this year with a photo of a darling lad — Jagger Rooney, their son who was born in June. Alan Jackson’s card this year is so handsome, and so is the one from Trace Adkins. Trace’s three little girls are drop-dead gorgeous.

Dan Seals Still Battling Cancer
All you good-hearted praying people are invited to lift the name of Dan Seals, a great singer-songwriter who has been fighting cancer for quite a while. Dan is beginning stem cell treatment in Houston, and we need to pray for healing. In case you didn’t know, Dan scored no less than 11 No. 1 singles during the ’80s and early ’90s — hits such as “Bop,” “Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)” and his duet with Marie Osmond, “Meet Me in Montana.”

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Collards.