(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.)
She's Sam Puckett on Nickelodeon's iCarly, but when Jennette McCurdy visited my kitchen, she was nothing like the smart-mouthed rebel she portrays on the hit TV series.
The Jennette who dropped by to tape CMT's Southern Fried Flicks was a really nice, polite 18-year-old who had fun visiting and enjoying a meal of chicken spaghetti, wonderful sweet potatoes and seven-layer salad -- followed by brownies for dessert.
Jennette has two wishes on her list. Writing songs since she was 7, she wants to be a country music star. Her second and most important wish, though, is for her mother to be pain free. Fifteen years ago, her mom was diagnosed with cancer. The disease had been in remission for years, but she's now battling breast cancer, going through chemo and all that goes with that.
It's no wonder Jennette decided to raise money for a major charity when she started a multi-city mall tour to promote her latest single, "Generation Love." At the stops, she sings a song or two and signs autographs. The events are free, but there's a $10 charity package that includes an 8x10 photo, a two-song CD and a meet-and-greet. Money raised at each event goes to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
"What's the use in having so many blessings unless I try and give back in some way?" she said. Those are some big words from a teenager.
The girl from Garden City, Calif., began acting at age 8. Besides her role on iCarly, she has appeared on Nick's True Jackson, VP and Zoey 101, along with Malcolm in the Middle, Will and Grace and other TV shows.
Her country music connections include Rascal Flatts' Jay DeMarcus, who served as producer on some initial tracks, followed by Paul Worley, who produces Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride and other major acts. Both men were impressed with the teen's personality, her talent as a singer-songwriter and her total focus on her work. Since she is a country music fan -- with Keith Urban being one of her favorite artists -- both DeMarcus and Worley are convinced there's room for the multi-talented teen on country radio.
Jennette is as pretty as other young stars such as Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus. Like Taylor, she writes songs. As a matter of fact, she's co-written with hit tunesmiths such as Jessi Alexander, Luke Laird and Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood. And like Miley, she's already successful as an actress.
Jennette McCurdy wants to be Miss iCountry. I like it!
Country Loses Another Legend
A lot has been written about him already, but I had to mention that one of country music's best has sung his last song. No doubt, 85-year-old Country Music Hall of Fame member Ferlin Husky went to his home in the sky with the lyrics of his biggest hit in his heart and on his lips:
"On the wings of a snow white dove/He sends his pure, sweet love/A sign from above/On the wings of a dove."
Montgomery Gentry Bouncing Back
It hit them hard when they least expected it -- all within a matter of months. Montgomery Gentry parted ways with Columbia Records, their label home from the time they released the debut single, "Hillbilly Shoes," in 1999. During the same time period, Eddie Montgomery was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In the midst of cancer surgery, Eddie's wife of many years, Tracy, filed for divorce. And keep in mind Eddie had just opened a successful restaurant near his home in Kentucky.
I'm happy to tell you that things have gotten better. Eddie's cancer is history -- with no chemo and no radiation required. And Montgomery Gentry have signed with Average Joe's Entertainment and are listening to new songs before heading to the recording studio within the next few weeks.
It looks like actress Jennifer Aniston is next in line to portray a country music singer in a movie. She'll be starring in a film about the Goree Girls, an all-female group made up of convicts who met in a Texas prison in the 1940s. Aniston calls the Goree Girls "the Dixie Chicks of their time." I don't know if she will (or can) sing her own parts. If any new music is involved, I do hope Hollywood will have the good sense to get the material from real country songwriters.
CMT is putting singing stars in original movies. Two projects already have wings and are set to fly. The first one, which has the working title To the Mat, has to do with wrestling and stars Ricky Schroder and Laura Bell Bundy. The second, Reel Love, stars LeAnn Rimes in the role of a big city girl with reasons to return to a small town.
Bits and Pieces
Why is the new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum called "Tootsie's Orchid Lounge: Thirty-Four Steps and Fifty Years"? Because Willie Nelson once said, "From the back door of the Ryman to the backdoor of Tootsie's, it's 17 steps -- and 34 steps back."
Ty Stone is now a recording artist because of Kid Rock. The Kid told me someone handed him a tape and, for some reason, he listened, like what he heard and found out the guy was in L.A. flipping burgers. "I sent him $500 and told him to catch a plane back to Detroit," the Kid said. "We're gonna make some music." Ty is opening shows for Jamey Johnson and Kid Rock and will be appearing with the Kid on an upcoming cruise headed for Cozumel.
The kind and good Japanese I've learned to love and appreciate through my two Amerasian grandsons are all OK. I'm eternally grateful for that. The storm that devastated that beautiful island has left thousands dead and thousands missing and caused damage has not been seen since World War II. Sending love and prayers to those who are suffering right now.
Remembering Carlton Haney
The man who singlehandedly took country music concerts out of the school houses and put them in coliseums many hit songs ago has died. Carlton Haney, a native of Reidsville, N.C., passed away last week following a stroke.
There's never been anyone like Carlton. There's no telling how much money he made and lost. And, yes, it's been suggested that he possibly authored a few bad checks along the way, but if truth be known, Carlton gave much more than he ever made. And he made most of those checks good.
Carlton was a visionary who widened bluegrass music's popularity after booking the Osborne Brothers in venues to open concerts for Merle Haggard. Whether it was solo acts or duos such as Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner or George Jones and Tammy Wynette, all the greats worked for Carlton. He also came up with the idea of bluegrass festivals that eventually spread across the nation.
He took bluegrass as far as the pioneers would allow it, and the bluegrass world is better off today because of Carlton Haney. As a matter of fact, actor-musician Steve Martin recently released his second bluegrass album,Rare Bird Alert, featuring the Steep Canyon Rangers, Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks. Watching Martin playing his banjo on David Letterman's late night show last week, I thought of Carlton.
Finally, I must tell you that Keith Fowler, the man responsible for all of Alabama's concerts through the years, told me that all he knew about booking shows he learned from Carlton Haney.
May God rest his soul. Sympathy to his daughter, Bonnie.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Salisbury Steak.