Quick-witted actress Melissa Peterman is hosting new episodes of The Singing Bee this summer on CMT — and you better believe she’s up for the task.
“I am a game show freak,” says Peterman, a stand-up comedian who is best known for her role as Barbra Jean on Reba McEntire’s sitcom, Reba. “I don’t know if anyone has seen my appearances on The $10,000 Pyramid. I am so competitive about games and game shows that a lot of my friends won’t play any games with me anymore. I love Jeopardy. I love Password and I love karaoke. So this, to me, was the perfect marriage and the perfect job.”
In this interview, Peterman talks about her favorite country song for karaoke, her frustration with the term “flyover country” and her friend’s secret talent.
CMT: Do you have a preferred list of songs when you go out for karaoke?
Peterman: I have some go-to songs. One, of course, is “Baby Got Back.” I do like to do “Jolene.” That’s my country go-to because it’s the greatest song ever. Umm … “Gangster’s Paradise”? I’ll also pull that out. … “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of doubt.” I like that. What else? You know, there’s “Fever.” That’s an easy one to do. [She sings] “I would walk five hun-dred miles” — I do that one a lot, by the Proclaimers. “In the Ghetto” is always a good one. I’ve brought people to tears with my rendition of “In the Ghetto.” I’m not sure if it was because it was so hauntingly beautiful, or I just can’t sing. But once you’ve had a drink or two, you think you’re hauntingly beautiful.
Was country music part of the landscape when you were living in Minnesota?
Not so much. … I would say I had an iPod that had anything from Trisha Yearwood to Prince to … everything. I certainly got more introduced to country music since I started working with Reba. But we were just talking about how on The Singing Bee, we’re going to do 60 percent country and like 40 percent other music. But the reality is that country music today is all over the place. I have a niece in Minnesota who is in love with Taylor Swift and knows every song. My uncle, who’s a police officer in Minnesota, is, like, Toby Keith’s biggest fan. It’s not one certain person who loves country. I think country is reaching everybody. I’m definitely more aware of artists that I didn’t know. I always was into Bonnie Raitt and that sort of style. But now I’m buying up country CDs or borrowing them from Reba’s iPod as much as I can.
Do you find that Hollywood has a hard time getting a grip on what the rest of the country is like between the coasts?
I hate that. They call it “flyover country.” I’m from there. Don’t underestimate the people that you’re flying over. Those people are smarter than that. … And because Reba was so hands-on, I mean her name was on the show, she cared what it looked like. I think we were really aware of like, “These are real people. They’re smart people.” Guess what? Most Americans have to deal with a step-person or an unexpected pregnancy. That happens. Unexpected pregnancies happen. … I hate it when I’ll be somewhere in Los Angeles, and someone asks, “Where are you from?” I say, “Minneapolis.” And they’re like, “Indianapolis? Do you like NASCAR?” And I’m like, “No, Minneapolis. Minnesota.”
We bought a condo back there (in Minneapolis) when we had our son so we could go spend more time there. I don’t want my son to only live in Los Angeles. Yeah, you don’t underestimate. There are intelligent people all over. I remember saying this once to a Hollywood executive. He was talking about small town or whatever … and I sometimes feel like these big cities think that they’re creating the culture. I think sometimes they’re the most small-minded of all because they truly believe that everything happens within a 30-mile radius. Guess what? People where I live are really aware that things are happening all over the place. It’s not just 30 miles of Los Angeles or New York that’s creating everything that happens. … That’s small-mindedness to me.
To someone who’s never had the chance to meet Reba in person, how would you describe what she’s really like?
Down-to-earth, super funny and gracious … maybe I should say something interesting. And a really good break dancer. Let’s get that out there. She likes to break it down.
On her head?
Yeah, she does. She carries cardboard around. Just lets it out like, “Bring it!” I wonder if I can get her to do The Singing Bee? What if she messed up her own lyrics? I think that’d be great. Let’s start a writing campaign, a petition for Reba to do The Singing Bee because she likes karaoke, too. Yeah, she will go do it. We used to do it after the show. … A lot of people were like, “No, thanks. That’s Reba McEntire. I don’t really wanna sing in front of her.” But then a few beers later, you’re like, “Elvira!” Yeah, she loves the karaoke. Of course, why wouldn’t she? If I could sing that way, I’d be winning contests all over this country.
For country fans that watch the show, what do you hope they take away from it?
I hope that it doesn’t matter whether they’re a country fan or not. I hope they take away that it’s a really good time and that they want to do it. I hope people watch it and go, “I want to be on that show!”