Nashville’s ‘Star’ In Wings

Jason Meadows might not be a household name, but with a recording contract, and agency and management lined up in the wake of his 2005 "Nashville Star" appearances and tour, he may yet become one.

While not as ubiquitous on the pop culture landscape as its reality show cousin "American Idol," the USA Network country music star search has produced emerging artists including Miranda Lambert and Buddy Jewell in its four seasons on cable, and Meadows is grateful for the opportunity he’s had to try to follow in their footsteps.

As a "final four" contestant in the 2005 "Nashville Star" series, Meadows took part in the resulting tour of mainly fairs and festivals in the eastern U.S. – and the experience left him wanting more.

"The tour, for me, gives those who’ve never really been on such a tour the opportunity to see what the road is really like and see how tough it really is out there," Meadows told Pollstar. "For me, it was a blast. It gave me a chance to see and shake hands with and thank all the people who were involved with putting me into the position in which I was put," Meadows said.

One of the masterminds behind the "Nashville Star" tour is Brinson Strickland of 262 Five Ltd. He came to a taping of the TV show with then-client Brad Paisley and saw the potential for a tour. The show’s producers, however, had to be sold on the idea.

"They’d looked into it and it didn’t make financial sense to them," Strickland told Pollstar. "They’d had a very large management company out of Los Angeles run a budget and cost estimate to put the show on the road, and talked to some people in Nashville about what kind of money could be made and they just couldn’t do it.

"So I said, ‘forward me that budget and let me look at it.’ And it was put together like a full-on arena The Rolling Stones tour. ‘You gotta have eight buses and 12 trucks and this and that.’ I went back and said, ‘This is country. We don’t do things like that in country music,’" Strickland said, laughing.

"We showed them how it could be done differently for this level of tour. The show belongs in the marketplace. People know what they’re going to get coming in because they’ve watched the series. Our idea was to make the live experience as much like the TV show as possible including sets, backdrops, interactive videos with highlight clips from the show."

William Morris Agency’s Rob Beckham is one of two responsible agents booking "Nashville Star." He sees benefits for both the label and artist in addition to the tour helping solidify the TV show’s brand.

"One of the benefits of the ‘Nashville Star’ tour is for the record label. The winner who gets the record deal gets to go out and become a polished performer without the label having to pay for them to go out on a radio show tour or promotional tour of some kind," Beckham told Pollstar.

"The artists also get to play with a stellar band (the "Nashville Star" house band) and get great transportation, a great tour manager and crew to take care of things, where normally they would be in a van and a trailer. It’s an opportunity to see the good part of what we do instead of slugging it out in a honky-tonk for maybe 50 people," Beckham said.

He also sees 2006 as a potential breakout year for the tour and the TV show. "The fact that they’ve changed record labels to Sony BMG gives ‘Nashville Star’ the extra credentials that it needed to be very successful," Beckham explained. "I hope it transcends from being a cable show to a network show. If the numbers could ever get us to that place, I think this could be the year to do that."

One aspect of "Nashville Star" that’s very much different from "American Idol" is the tour of final four contestants – which is announced while the TV show is still in its run and before the winner is determined.

"When you get to the last four weeks, those are going to be the four finalists who will be on the tour," Todd Boltin, a talent buyer for Variety Attractions, told Pollstar. "A lot of people, when they pick their favorite, they’re voting for them every week and tuning in to make sure they go on. And when [the tour comes] to their town, they go see them.

"In the last four weeks of the show, we’re going to start buying TV time and running ads. We’ll put the tickets on sale the week after the show ends."

"Nashville Star" debuts its fourth season, with hosts Wynonna Judd and Cowboy Troy, March 14th on USA Network.

– Deborah Speer