HOT DISH: John Rich, Scotty McCreery Are Big Winners

Celebrity Apprentice, American Idol Put Country in the Spotlight

(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 CMT.com.)

There were two big winners in country music during the past week, and their names are John Rich and Scotty McCreery.

I cannot tell you how proud I am that John won Celebrity Apprentice. His participation in the show raised money for his favorite charity, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. He won over actress Marlee Matlin and walked away the winner after raising more than $1 million for kids with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

As you probably know, Matlin is deaf, and her appearance on Celebrity Apprentice helped deaf children. God bless Marlee Matlin, and thanks for your dedication to a most worthy charity. But when it comes to the real winner among the celebrity contestants, it was John Rich. His mission was finding a cure for cancer and healing kids.

And, of course, who isn’t aware of Scotty’s success on American Idol? The 17-year-old was named the winner in the final competition against Lauren Alaina, another young singer who obviously loves country music, too.

Congratulations to Scotty, who hails from Garner, N.C. He’s the latest in a long list of country artists from the great state of North Carolina, birthplace of folks ranging from Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson to Randy Travis and Ronnie Milsap to Kellie Pickler and Eric Church.

Country Couples
Since Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert recited their vows, it seems to me there’s a mighty focus on country music couples such as Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Martina and John McBride, Brad and Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill and Amy Grant.

There’s an excellent story in the current issue of AARP magazine titled, “Crazy in Love.” It’s the love journey of Vince and Amy. How that couple made it through the mud and mire is beyond imagination. But by the grace of God and their undeniable faith, they managed to reach their desired place together.

By the way, Belmont University in Nashville honored Vince during its recent graduation ceremony when he was presented an honorary doctor of humanities degree. University president Dr. Bob Fisher said, “Vince Gill has mastered his craft, yet he keeps on pushing himself to greater excellence. As a citizen and humanitarian, he dedicates himself to service and providing opportunities for others to succeed. Vince is truly a Nashville and national treasure.”

Dr. Fisher knows bigger and fancier words than I do, but it is my conviction that Vince is plumb perfect, so what he said sounds right to me.

More News
Brad Paisley has scored his 17th Billboard No. 1 single with “Old Alabama.” I hope all of you saw Brad with Alabama‘s Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook on The Late Show With David Letterman. Letterman was correct when he exclaimed, “That’s country music!” They also appeared on Good Morning America.

The Doobie Brothers will perform with Luke Bryan on a new episode of CMT Crossroads airing June 24.

Big-hearted Taylor Swift‘s final dress rehearsal in Nashville for her North American tour raised more than $750,000 for tornado victims.

Carrie Underwood has been named American Idol‘s top earner by the Hollywood Reporter. According to SoundScan, the Oklahoma beauty has sold more than 12.3 million albums and 18.5 million digital tracks since 2005, and her tour revenues exceed $66.7 million. She’s planning her first trip to Australia and New Zealand to promote the July 10 release there of Play On: Deluxe Edition.

Visiting With the Civil Wars
They like Johnny Cash, June Carter, Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline and Adele and great songwriters such as Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt — and Johann Sebastian Bach. Taylor Swift likes them and their music, and they like her, too.

The Civil Wars aren’t scholars of the War Between the States. Only half of the musical duo is from the South. John Paul White is a native of Loretto, Tenn. His singing partner, Joy Williams, is a native of Santa Cruz, Calif. And, yes, they are married — but not to each other. However, they share a common bond in their music.

The quiet introduction of this unlikely duo was heard around this nation when their signature song, “Poison and Wine,” was played in its entirety over a key montage on the hit TV series Grey’s Anatomy. It prompted hundreds of thousands of viewers to Google the mystery music.

Lo and behold, they got an unsolicited endorsement when country music’s darling, Taylor Swift, showed up unannounced at one of their concerts. She oohed and ahhed about duo, bought merchandise and tweeted her love of their music. It must have been heard around the world when Taylor included “Poison and Wine” as a selection in her official iTunes playlist, saying, “I think this is my favorite duet. It’s exquisite.”

The duo met in 2008 on something of a professional blind date. They, along with several other songwriters, were called in to write “radio singles” for another musical act. Living in Nashville, Joy still worked mostly in L.A. and came out of the pop world, so she wondered why they called her. John Paul wasn’t burning things up on Nashville’s Music Row either, but neither knew that about the other. Almost 20 writers were drawing straws and getting to know each other a bit. When John Paul started singing, Joy knew where he was headed musically and could follow him even though she’d never met him before.

John Paul had done lots of co-writes but says he’d never felt that weird spark — the familiarity he got from Joy as though they’d been together in a family band before. She felt the magic, too, but neither one let on at first. They both played it cool. John Paul finally worked up the nerve, scuffed his heel on the floor many times before he allowed, “I’ve got this guitar, and you sing pretty good, but you probably don’t want to. You’re so much better than I am.” Joy felt the same.

Their Barton Hollow album was released in February and became the No. 1 downloaded album on iTunes. The album also enjoyed huge success on the Billboard charts. The day after the album was released, they performed to a sold-out crowd at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater, a show that received an extra promotional push when Taylor Swift mentioned it to her more than 5 million followers on Twitter.

The album’s title track is nominated for duo video of the year at the CMT Music Awards, airing June 8. That’s how I met this incredible twosome in my kitchen when we shot a segment of CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks. Somebody please let the Taylor Swift know the episode will air on June 22.

Joy and John Paul came up with their band name when she saw a road sign that included the word “civil.”

“‘Civil’ could mean anything,” she explained. “Music. Ourselves.”

The only word they could think of that went with “civil” was “wars.” So that’s the back story.

They’ve been on the road opening shows for Adele. Don’t tell anybody, but it looks like they may be continuing this trek until the end of the year.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: [news id="1664756"]Chicken Parmigiana.[/news]