(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.)
At the moment, Taylor Swift is in the land down under for a series of concerts, but she attracted plenty of attention in her homeland before she left.
Taylor's tour of Australia and New Zealand kicked off Friday (March 2) in Perth and has several shows -- including two nights in Brisbane and Sydney and three nights in Melbourne -- before she closes things out with three nights in Auckland.
But before she left the U.S., she made an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, spending time with British Internet stars Sophia Grace Brownlee, 8, and Rosie McClelland, 5, during a new segment Ellen is calling "Tea Time With Sophia Grace and Rosie."
And while she was on the West Coast, the Los Angeles Times reported that Taylor was seen sharing a meal with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, fueling speculation about whether the relationship is romantic or platonic.
And, of course, Taylor also received a flurry of headlines after she got an invitation from another football player -- 18-year-old Kevin McGuire, a senior at Sterling High School in Somerdale, N.J. Kevin has been battling leukemia for five years. When he recently relapsed, his sister set up his Facebook page and invited Taylor to be his date for his high school prom.
Well, Taylor can't make it on the evening the prom is taking place, but she did him one even better. She wrote, "Kevin, I won't be able to make your prom. But I was wondering, the ACM Awards are coming up real soon. Would you be my date?" Even though Kevin was in the hospital, he said yes! Attending the ACM Awards is better than the senior prom.
As a side note, I was more than pleased to see that Entertainment Weekly gave Taylor an A-minus on her video of "Safe & Sound" with the Civil Wars. They wrote of our girl, "Floating through a gorgeously photographed, spookily unsettling forest, she gives her best performance yet."
I think Taylor is continuing to prove herself worldwide.
Dierks Bentley Heads to Australia, Too
Dierks Bentley's career has been pretty amazing, to say the least. And it appears that 2012 is primed to be bigger than ever. His critically-acclaimed album, Home, debuted at No. 1, and he performed the title song at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama. He recently wrapped up a tour of Canada. After some U.S. dates, he'll be heading to Australia this week for a series of shows.
But he'll be back in the U.S. to close the Toadlick Music Festival on March 24 in Dothan, Ala. Montgomery Gentry, Sara Evans, Justin Moore and Joe Nichols will be performing the same day. The three-day festival begins on March 22 and will also feature Craig Morgan, Randy Travis, 38 Special, Rodney Atkins, Kip Moore, David Nail, Sawyer Brown, Jake Owen, Clay Walker, Billy Currington and Trace Adkins, among others.
Alan Jackson Breaks Attendance Record at San Antonio Rodeo
Alan Jackson set a new attendance record at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. It was his 15th appearance, but his Feb. 23 visit attracted almost 17,000 fans, the biggest crowd since the rodeo began in 1950. Earlier that day, Big AJ performed the luncheon show for Country Radio Seminar revelers, then got on his jet and headed for Texas.
Jason Aldean Is Hot
It took all of four minutes for Jason Aldean to sell out his May 19 show in Atlanta, so he added a second show. He still recalls his mom driving him all over Georgia to perform in clubs in front of as few as 20 people.
"My dream was to perform for 20,000," he says.
And now he does. One of the hottest country stars today, Jason is touring with his pal Luke Bryan (another Georgia boy) and Lauren Alaina (an American Idol runner-up and a Georgia girl). They're filling venues everywhere they stop.
Luke Bryan Reveals His New Suntan
Luke Bryan's Spring Break 4 ... Suntan City, a four-song EP, will be released digitally on Tuesday (March 6). Luke co-wrote the four songs on the EP with some of Music Town's finest. Luke is continuing his annual spring break concerts on the Gulf Coast with appearances at Spinnaker's Beach Club in Panama City, Fla., on March 13 and 14.
Mavericks Working on New Album
The Mavericks -- the foursome of lead vocalist Raul Malo, bassist Robert Reynolds, drummer Paul Deakin and guitarist Eddie Perez -- are back again and working on a new album for the Valory Music Co. for release later this year. After performing at a private party during the recent Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, their first public gig takes place in late April at the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, Calif.
Miranda Lambert Stays Busy
Miranda Lambert returned to her On Fire tour after two weeks away that included a performance of "America the Beautiful" at the Super Bowl with hubby Blake Shelton and a busy schedule at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. And she recently made her acting debut on her favorite television show, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
Speaking of Miranda, I am very proud she let Chris Brown know there are a lot of us who do not like men who beat women. He shouldn't have been allowed to perform on the Grammy Awards.
Ray Stevens Records Encyclopedia
No two ways about it, Ray Stevens is a master of comedy. The Grammy Award-winning icon has put it all together in Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music, a nine-CD, 108-song boxed set compilation on his own label, Clyde Records.
"The two-year project has been a labor of love," says Stevens.
The multi-talented Stevens admits his comedy records are who he is musically. He recorded some love songs earlier in his career, but they did not set the world on fire. Deciding he needed to do something different, he started the ball rolling with songs such as "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon," "Jeremiah Peabody's Poly-Unsaturated, Quick Dissolving, Fast-Acting, Pleasant Tasting, Green and Purple Pills" and hit it big with titles such as "Ahab the Arab," "Gitarzan" and "The Streak."
Still in high demand for live performances, Stevens has sold millions of records.
Don Schlitz Headed to Songwriters Hall of Fame
Don Schlitz will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York on June 14. Perhaps the most prolific songwriter to ever hail from North Carolina, Schlitz wrote "The Gambler" for Kenny Rogers, "On the Other Hand" and "Forever and Ever, Amen" for Randy Travis and a slew of other hits.
Don joins Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn among the country members of the national Hall of Fame.
Bakersfield Sound Exhibit Coming to Nashville
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville is set to open a new exhibit, The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and California Country, on March 23 to tell the story of the stars, sidemen and songwriters who created such great country music on the West Coast. Narrated by Dwight Yoakam, the exhibit will explore the roots, heyday and impact the radio ready music most closely identified with Owens and Haggard.
The grand opening weekend will be highlighted by a March 24 panel discussion featuring Dallas Frazier, Don Maddox, Rose Lee Maphis, Buddy Mize, Red Simpson and Country Music Hall of Fame member Jean Shepard.
Scotty McCreery's "The Trouble With Girls" is certified gold.
Little Big Town have a new producer, Jay Joyce, and are working on their fifth album.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Hearty Potato Soup.