OFFSTAGE: Top 5 Phone Interviews of 2011

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

Celebrities almost always block their phone numbers. (They just punch in *67 before they enter your phone number.) So when someone important is calling you, the caller ID always shows up as “Unknown Caller.” Yet, I always know who it is. Because guys like Lionel Richie and Zac Brown don’t just call you out of the blue. They call at a specific time with a specific topic in mind. But the phone interviews I love the most are the ones where we stray a little off topic and talk a little longer than we’d originally scheduled. See what I mean, with my favorite five phoners from 2011:

1. Lionel Richie called me in November. The legendary singer-songwriter was just supposed to talk about his upcoming performance on the CMA Awards , but he revealed so much more. About his childhood, his Commodores years and how it’s hell getting old. All of that in just 16 minutes.

2. Zac Brown and I talked for 21 minutes. I think our plan was to talk mostly about his passion for food, but that led to a long chat about his passion for music and his discovery of Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls.” And then how he remembers vividly wringing beer out of his tip money at the end of every night when he was still playing at bars.

3. Reality TV star Kendra Wilkinson said much too much. Her publicist stayed on the line with us for the 33-minute interview and felt compelled to ask me to kind of forget some of the things Wilkinson told me. I was OK with that, because the things Wilkinson did tell me (about playing country music when she lived at the Playboy Mansion, falling in love with her husband to Kenny Chesney’s music and how Sara Evans“Suds in the Bucket” really relates to her life) were more than enough to build a story.

4. Trace Adkins is a slow talker. And in a phone interview , that is a godsend. Because as he is carefully weighing every word, I am carefully listening to every word. On the day I talked to him about his Proud to Be Here album, we veered off track a little and talked about some good stuff (Blake Shelton) and some not-so-good (the fire that destroyed the Adkins family’s home of 11 years).

5. Billy Ray Cyrus was just going to tell me about his work with the Tune Up for COPD songwriting contest to call attention to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But he is one of the nicest guys in the music business , so when you get him on the phone, you don’t want the conversation to end. And he seems like he loves to talk. So I asked him about the Saturday Night Live skit about The Miley Cyrus Show. He told me he loved it. It’s amazing how special he is.