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HOT DISH: Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?
Carrie Underwood Leads the List of Those Hoping for a Perfect Fit
(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 shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

The great George Jones asked in his 1985 hit: Who's gonna fill their shoes/Who's gonna stand that tall/Who's gonna play the Opry and the "Wabash Cannonball"? A whole passel of newbies are on the horizon, and I've been privileged to become acquainted with them.

Regular readers will recall me teaching Carrie Underwood the proper way to shake hands. Gov. Terry Sanford from the great state of North Carolina showed my seventh grade class the firm grip I shared with Carrie. I'll tell anybody that Carrie Underwood is filling shoes.

Of course, Carrie, who has now sold 5 million CDs, got her shot into stardom on American Idol, just like Kellie Pickler, who is also making a name for herself.

Both girls are simply great and gorgeous but should not be compared. Carrie's background was solid. She went to college. On the other hand, Kellie's background was very iffy. Her mama left, her daddy was in prison, and her grandma tried until she died. But there was also her grandpa. Thank goodness, he would not let her back out of the American Idol auditions in Greensboro, N.C.

I've been singing Jack Ingram's praises. He's about to explode like a shooting star. He's making all the right moves. Watch him fly.

Then there's Bucky Covington, another American Idol finalist. Bucky brought me a Carolina blue hydrangea plant when he visited my kitchen as a guest on CMT's Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith. A likable guy, Bucky is taller and better looking than his TV appearances and photos allow.

When asked about Idol judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, Bucky replied, "Randy was always great -- very supportive and helpful. Paula was a doll -- always friendly and gave great advice. But I never saw Simon him except when he was onstage. Except once. I did see him driving a brand new five-speed Ferrari. He took off and almost tore out the transmission. He scraped all five gears."

Working in his dad's auto body shop in Rockingham, N.C., Bucky knows about engines and cars, and he knows Simon should learn how to drive a car with a clutch.

The day after Bucky was kicked off Idol, Sawyer Brown's Mark Miller called him. Mark wound up co-producing his debut CD that will be on the shelves Tuesday (April 17). When I saw him singing at the Opry, the audience loved him. He's got the goods to go big time.

Bucky told me about visiting Billy Bob Thornton at his home in L.A. a few weeks ago. Talking about movies, Bucky mentioned that Sling Blade was one of his favorites. When Bucky mentioned that Dwight Yoakam was great in the movie, Billy Bob said, "I was in that movie." (He also wrote and directed the film.)

"Really?" replied Bucky. "I don't remember seeing you. What role did you play?"

"Karl Childers," replied Billy Bob.

"You were Karl?!" Bucky exploded. "You don't look a bit like Karl. You don't sound a bit like Karl."

"That's called acting, Bucky, baby," Billy Bob responded. He's one of my faves.

Taylor Swift is a good singer. Her album is gold, and kids dig her. I'm watching her.

That brings us to Jason Michael Carroll. He hails from the Oxford-Raleigh area of North Carolina and gigged all over that state and Virginia before striking out to Nashville with his killer self-written single, "Alyssa Lies." With a song as lyrically strong as "Alyssa," I was not surprised to learn that Brad Paisley is one of Jason's favorite singer-songwriters. Jason's CD, Waitin' in the Country, debuted at No. 1 on the country albums chart and so far is selling really well. Carrie, Kellie and Bucky had Idol to kick-start their careers while Jason had "Alyssa."

Jason, the son of a preacher with a narrow mind and a belt to match, was not allowed to listen to country music when he was growing up. As a teenager, Jason loved to run errands, wash cars and do whatever else he could do to drive a car with a radio just so he could hear some country music. A pal gave Jason a copy of Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy, Breaky Heart." He hid it under his mattress, but his dad found it and whipped him. When Jason's album debuted higher than any other new country artist since Billy Ray, the preacher called his son a star. He'd never say he was wrong about what happened in the past but has to know he wasn't right.

Among the other new artists, there's also Eric Church, Ray Scott, Ashley Monroe and a whole bunch of other talented people in the pipeline. A few will hit -- and a few will miss. If the newcomers can find the right songs and record enough hits, maybe they're the ones who will fill the legends' shoes.

Shania Twain and Family High on Another Mountain

Shania Twain, hubby and producer Mutt Lange and their son Eja have been residing high on a hill in the Alps overlooking a lake in dreamy Switzerland where mountains touch the skies and fairy tales are written. The couple purchased 24,000-plus acres high on another hill in New Zealand where they are having a $30-million estate built. Locals say when Shania and Mutt shop at local markets for fruit and vegetables, she wears a baseball cap and is very nice. However, it's reported the couple does flit in and out of the country on their private jet.

It Crossed My Desk

Author Jenny Smedley contacted me some years ago with her book detailing the tale of blue-eyed Ryan and the lovely Madeleine, a couple who lived in the 1600s and were, she says, reincarnated as blue-eyed Garth Brooks and herself. Well, I was totally flabbergasted.

But she came to the U.S. from her home in the U.K. and actually met Garth. Now she has written a book titled Souls Don't Lie (A True Story of Past Lives). She sent me a copy -- like she said she would. And I've read it -- like I said I would. The woman has done enormous research in England and Ireland documenting places she has dreamed about as Madeleine in love with Ryan.

Keep in mind, all the while, Jenny has lived with her husband, Tony, who held her when she'd have screaming, sweaty nightmares of Ryan being in harm's way and the evil that surrounded them.

The cover of the book features a photo of Jenny and Garth, the man she swears she first saw on TV singing in the middle of the night. At the time, she claims she didn't know who he was. However, her nightmares ceased after she found her Ryan.

The book has nothing to do with music. My opinion? It takes all kinds.

One Other Thing

I'm having some health problems, but I'll be back with you as soon as I can. God bless and love to each and every one of you.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Coconut Pie.
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