John Rich won this season’s Celebrity Apprentice competition on Sunday night (May 22), bringing in $250,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. With all the funds he raised during the series, he has been able to raise more than $1 million for the organization, a longtime favorite among country stars.
Just a few days before Donald Trump delivered the final verdict, Rich visited CMT to discuss his experience on the show. Here’s what he had to say.
CMT: What surprised you the most during your time on Celebrity Apprentice?
Rich: What surprised me the most is that Donald Trump’s hair is real! (laughs) It is! It actually is. He had Hope [Dworaczyk], who is a Playboy playmate, of course, come up, and he said, “Hope, you can feel it. It’s totally real.” Sure enough, she’s running her fingers through it and we’re all going, “OK, here you go.” When Mr. Trump shows up, there are always two limos. He’s in the first one and his hair’s in the second one. It’s a bigger star than he is, actually.
But all kidding aside, Trace Adkins gave me great advice. He said, “You will never encounter anything more exhausting and more challenging to you than doing Celebrity Apprentice.” And he was correct. He really was. It’s not for everybody, and there were a couple of times when I was wondering if it was for me. By focusing on the end goal, which was to win the show for St. Jude and get that quarter-million dollars at the end, that’s the one thing that kept me from engaging in a lot of the insanity that was going on.
Is it too simplified to say that common sense is the best approach to doing business?
Well, you’ve got your common sense, but you’ve got people and situations testing you, making you have emotional responses to things. It’s not natural to put those in check. It’s natural to go, “Hey dude, what is your problem?!” But you can’t say that because that leads to another confrontation. And it takes away from the reason you’re there. The toughest thing for me was keeping my emotions in check, keeping my ego in check and not letting me be my worst enemy.
What percent of celebrities that you’ve met are completely crazy?
(laughs) Completely crazy? You know, a fair portion. I think to have a long career in the entertainment business, you’ve got to be a little crazy because you get the snot beaten out of you a lot. You get told no. You fail a whole lot. To keep coming back and back and back when the odds are stacked so high against you, you’ve got to be a little crazy. It’s like being a bull rider.
Early in the season, you stood up for country fans after a few degrading comments by your teammates. Why was that important for you to do that?
We had Richard Hatch and Jose Canseco sitting in the back of the van, and they listened to me come up with a jingle: (sings) “Welcome to Camping World/Welcome to Camping World/We’ve got all the camping things/For your boys and girls.” I thought this would be a cool, country-feeling jingle and it might help us win this task. And these guys were sitting in the back of the van saying, “I don’t think we need something that sounds backward and uneducated.” They started using all these words, and I turned around and looked at them and said to them, “You will not talk about country music fans like that. I will not sit and listen to it. And if you insist on saying it again, we can stop the van and square off right now.”
And I was not kidding. People who know me know, “Yep, he wasn’t kidding.” Those are two big ol’ guys. I’d have had to get on a stepladder just to poke Jose in the eye. But I was willing to do it because you don’t talk smack about country music or country music fans because these are the greatest fans in the world. It’s why everybody else wants to come here and make their music here. And I just couldn’t stand by and let them talk about our fans like that.
Did that surprise them that you stood up like that?
Oh, God! It surprised them big-time! I think that’s the first little taste anybody got of me that I was a serious guy. Yeah, we’re being silly on the street selling pizza, but I’ve got a serious side, too. And I will bring it to you if I have to. That’s where they got their first sting of what I was capable of.
You’ve been a champion for the JaneDear Girls. Why did they capture your attention?
Well, if you’ve ever met the JaneDear Girls, you never forget meeting them. They have an energy about them and a look and sound that is so fresh. You feel like you just ran through a field of daisies when you’ve been around those girls. And they are so talented. They play something like 10 instruments between the two of them. They’re great songwriters. They’re good girls. I call them “the girls next door that kick country ass.” That’s the best way to describe them. I ran into them several years ago and they were struggling through the process and the engine of Nashville. I said, “Girls, I think you can be huge stars. I’d love to work with you. Do you think I can work with you?” They said, “We’d love to work with you.” And we worked together for two to three years before they got a record deal. Warner Bros. signed them, and I’m just getting to sit back now and clap my hands and go, “Awesome! Way to go, girls!”
What else are you working on these days?
There’s an artist out there right now named Bradley Gaskin that is brand-spankin’ new. He hasn’t even shot a video yet, but he is about to do that. He’s got a song called “Mr. Bartender.” This guy’s voice is so country. It’s like Keith Whitley and Johnny Paycheck blended into this one sound. You’ve never heard anything like it. He’s a sheet rock-hanger from Duck Springs, Ala., which is — you guessed it — in the middle of nowhere. We ran across him on MySpace. He had one song up, which his wife had put up for him. I said, “If this guy can sing like this in person, he’s going to be a superstar.” And sure enough, he sings like that in person. He’s already in the Top 40 this week. I would tell everybody to go check out Bradley Gaskin’s “Mr. Bartender.” You’re going to like it.
You were pretty important in helping Jason Aldean get established, too.
Aldean’s important to me! Jason recorded a bunch of my songs — “Hicktown,” “Amarillo Sky,” “Why,” “Johnny Cash.” He did these great recordings of some of my songs. I would say we helped each other, really. And we still do. … A songwriter that I signed to a publishing deal found a guy in a Mexican restaurant, singing down on Nolensville Road [in Nashville], named Andy Gibson. He was one of the writers on “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” So I got to get another Jason Aldean No. 1 plaque as a publisher. We’ve got a great relationship, and Aldean has earned every inch of ground he’s gained.
Why is it important for you to invest in these younger artists?
People invested in me! I showed up to town and I thought I knew everything. I really didn’t know a whole lot. But I had a lot of raw talent. I didn’t have a lot of refined talent. I had a lot of energy, I loved country music, and I wanted to be a part of it. I had people that gave me a shot. They would take a meeting with me or write a song with me. I feel like it’s my duty to pass that on down. Not to mention, it’s a blast watching someone from Duck Springs, Ala., to the Top 40. That’s pretty cool. Or to watch the JaneDear Girls go from waiting tables to being nominated for an ACM award. Or to see Gretchen Wilson go from a bartender to selling millions of records. It’s pretty awesome, and I’ll probably always be involved in helping young talent.View photos from the finale of Celebrity Apprentice. Read the first part of Rich’s interview with CMT.com.