(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.)
The latest celebrity to visit my kitchen for CMT's Southern Fried Flicks is Kevin Skinner, the Mayfield, Ky., talent who was last year's $1 million winner of the America's Got Talent competition. Kevin auditioned and won in Paducah, Ky., and Chicago before flying from Nashville to Los Angeles. It was his first flight ever.
Once in L.A., he met America's Got Talent judges Sharon Osbourne, Piers Morgan and David Hasselhoff, whom he described as "the nicest folks you'd ever want to meet." Week after week, he wondered if he'd get to stay in competition.
"Fans kept voting," he told me. "Not only from Mayfield and around Kentucky, but from every which way. Even folks from other countries liked me."
When the votes were counted in L.A., Kevin was one of the finalists, which meant he was on his way to Las Vegas for a flurry of performances. Being from small town Mayfield, the lights of Las Vegas took his breath away. Of course, America's Got Talent had him staying at a nice hotel, but he didn't know anyone there, plus he was the only person with a mile-wide grin and a Kentucky drawl.
He could get onstage and sing night after night, though, and he was blessed with the friendship of an elderly lady, Grandma Kelly from Florida, who would walk with him to every meal at the Palms Casino and Resort's buffet. That was pretty much his way of life until he was named the TV show's big winner. By the way, with his good luck, Kevin told me he won $8,000 playing the slots.
"Might've lost a thousand," he grinned.
"But do you still have the big million?" I interjected.
"Aw, yeah," he assured me.
After the Vegas win, Kevin returned to L.A., where he performed at several venues and made appearances on various televisions shows, including The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Tonight Show. Kevin allowed that he "really took a liking to Ellen DeGeneres."
"She is one of the nicest people I've ever met," Kevin remembered.
He was quite surprised that I'd been on her show and claim Ellen as a friend.
After his experiences in L.A. and Vegas, the country boy then set off to New York City. His eyes widened as he smiled ear to ear while telling me about his memories of the big city.
"The buildings were so tall, the honest truth, you couldn't see the top of 'em, and you couldn't even see the stars shining," he recalled, shaking his head and rubbing his hands together. "It's a whole lot for somebody like me who'd never hardly been out of the state of Kentucky."
Kevin continued his TV appearances in New York and especially enjoyed the hospitality Regis Philbin provided during his visit to Live With Regis and Kelly.
Changing the subject, I wanted to know more about Kevin's personal life.
"What about marriage?" I asked. "Have you ever been married?"
He looked a little embarrassed when he nodded yes.
"More than once?" I continued.
He nodded yes again.
Then he held up three fingers.
"Three times?!" I exclaimed.
And he nodded again.
"Lordy mercy," I said. "Surely not. I can't believe it."
I laughed -- and so did he.
He might have been married three times, but he knows good country food when he tastes it. He liked my ziti, corn on the cob and fruit salad, but he loved my green beans. "Never tasted none this good," he said.
Kevin's parents were both musical, as were his two brothers and sister, but it was his grandmother who gave him a proverbial shove with love that kept him heading toward music. Sadly for Kevin, his grandma died before he hit the million-dollar jackpot but not before he honored her with his self-penned song titled, "Her Stone."
"Listen to the song, and you'll know what Grandma means to me," he said.
I found it interesting that video producer John Lloyd Miller came out of retirement after seeing Kevin perform several Garth Brooks songs on America's Got Talent. He directed the video for Kevin's single, "Like It's the Last Goodbye."
Kevin wrote all the songs on his album, Long Ride, and you can find more information about the project by going to his website, www.kevinskinnertheofficialsite.com.
You will enjoy seeing Kevin on Southern Fried Flicks on Sept. 4. The movie will be Young Guns II.
Rock-a-Bye Baby Again for Luke Bryan and Wife
Luke Bryan and wife Caroline named their new son Tatum "Tate" Christopher. Tate joins his 2-year-old brother, Thomas Boyer "Bo." Tate weighed in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces.
Kenny Chesney Heading to Farm Aid Concert
Kenny Chesney and Norah Jones have committed to perform on the 25th anniversary of Farm Aid set for Oct. 2 at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Expect them to join the great Willie Nelson with his loyal pals John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews. All four of them are Farm Aid board members. If you get a chance to thank these four men, please do.
Alan Jackson, Tim DuBois: Together Again
Two decades ago, Alan Jackson became the first act signed to the new-to-Nashville Arista Records. Tim DuBois was the label's chief and the man who signed big A.J. Almost 21 years later, they're in the news again. ASCAP will give Alan its Founders Award at the 48th annual ASCAP Country Music Awards on Sept. 14. DuBois, who's now ASCAP's vice president and managing executive of operations, will make the presentation. Two of country music's greatest men.
Lee Ann Womack Hosting ACM Honors
For the second year, Lee Ann Womack will host the ACM Honors. The ceremony takes place Sept. 20 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
The award recipients, announced earlier this year, include Keith Urban, who will be presented the Jim Reeves International Award for his work in expanding country music's presence throughout the world. Mel Tillis and the late Marty Robbins will be recognized with the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award for their early contributions to country music.
Don Schlitz and the late Cindy Walker were also named as the recipients of the Poet's Award, an honor presented to songwriters. Crazy Heart, the film starring Jeff Bridges, earned the Tex Ritter Award given to films that feature country music. Veteran talent agent Rod Essig was named this year's recipient of the Mae Boren Axton Award which recognizes an individual's dedication and service to the country music industry.
Return of the Desert Rose Band
My son raved about the recent performance of the reunited Desert Rose Band with Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen, Jay Dee Maness, John Jorgenson, Bill Bryson and Steve Duncan. The show in Nashville centered around their hits from the late '80s, including "She Don't Love Nobody," "Love Reunited," "One Step Forward," "He's Back and I'm Blue," "Summer Wind" and "I Still Believe in You."
Guests for the very special event at the Belcourt Theatre included Emmylou Harris and Brad Paisley. It was Hillman who introduced Emmylou to Gram Parsons, the late singer-songwriter who brought her to the nation's attention on his solo albums. Jorgenson loves to tell the story of receiving a pencil-written letter on tablet paper with the name Paisley and a return address in West Virginia. Years later, Paisley and Jorgenson trading guitar licks onstage was a highlight this hillbilly town won't forget for a long old time.
Grammy Salutes Loretta Lynn
Country Music Hall of Fame member Loretta Lynn will be honored during the Recording Academy's second annual Grammy Salute to Country Music set for Oct. 12 at the Ryman Auditorium. The event recognizes her 50 eventful years in the music business. A true music pioneer, she charted her first country single, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," in 1960.
Ralph Emery Elected to Radio Hall of Fame
Ralph Emery has been elected to the National Radio Hall of Fame following online voting.
Emery gained fame as the all-night disc jockey at Nashville radio station WSM-AM. Superstars like Marty Robbins, an insomniac, would go out to the radio station just to hang out with Ralph. The show became a launching pad for young talent.
Emery left his all-night duties to go into television. He hosted the popular Pop Goes the Country syndicated show and became even more popular in the '80s and early '90s as host of Nashville Now on TNN: The Nashville Network.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Peaches and Cream Pie.