OFFSTAGE: Who Will Be the Next Carrie Underwood?

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

Isn’t that what all of us country fans are thinking when we sit down to watch a new season of American Idol? I look for any glimmer of country hope in every audition. So when a guy came out and sang some dead-on Josh Turner, or the 15-year-old girl did Carrie Underwood‘s “We’re Young and Beautiful,” I got big, fat goose bumps. But on Wednesday night’s (Jan. 19) season premiere, I also had the joy of taking in Steven Tyler in his new role as judge. “I took this gig because I love music, and I’m so thirsty and hungry to try to find a Janis Joplin for this era,” he said at the start of the show. And he advised contestants to “sing like you do when no one’s looking.” Good advice, for sure. But he also added a sense of humor and levity to the whole two-hour broadcast. And right when I needed it, he pulled out a line from his old song “Fever,” which I love mostly because of the way Garth Brooks rearranged it and covered it in 1995. When one young contestant was getting ready to sing Ray Charles‘ “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” Tyler told him, “We’re all here because we’re not all there.”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.