"I almost didn't go," Jewell said recently about going out for the cattle call-type tryouts held around the nation for "Nashville Star," which has been airing Saturdays on cable's USA Network since mid-March.
After discussing the auditions with his wife, who initially nixed the idea and then immediately changed her mind to encourage him, Jewell got in line.
"There were well over 600 of us in Nashville," said Jewell, who works steadily as a singer on new record demos. "I was hesitant to go mainly because it was going to be a reality show. I was concerned about the cheese factor."
But seven hours later, after singing for about 30 seconds, he found himself as one of the finalists for "Nashville Star." Nine weeks later, Jewell is one of three singer/songwriters who have made it to the show's finale this Saturday.
Jewell, 42, originally from Osceola, Ark., but who has lived in Nashville for 10 years, will compete with Miranda Lambert, 19, from Lindale, Texas, and John Arthur Martinez, 41, from Marble Falls, Texas, for the grand prize of a recording contract with Sony Records Nashville and the debut album produced by Clint Black.
Though only one will walk away as the winner, the three finalists agree they have all won by making it this far in the competition.
"This has changed my whole career," Lambert said, "It's saved me about three years of playing honky tonks around Texas. This is a great launching pad for all of us."
Martinez, who the show's judges have called the "Mexican Marty Robbins, said he already has seen a boost to his career.
"I've had to reorder one of my CDs, I've sold out of my T-shirts, run out of publicity photos," said Martinez, who operates his own independent record label in his hometown.
"I've gotten performance requests from major cities, I'm playing Dallas with Joe Nichols, and fairs in Colorado, Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Kentucky. I'm meeting with one of the large entertainment and booking agents in Nashville. In the old days, I'd handle all of the bookings, paying the guys, setting up the sound system and driving the van back home. The life I was used to doesn't exist anymore for me."
Saturday's winner already has been chosen by the television viewing audience, which cast its votes via telephone, Internet and text messaging during a three-hour voting period following the April 26 show. The contestant with the third-highest votes will be eliminated early in the show with the two finalists each performing.
Country music entertainers Trace Adkins and Jo Dee Messina are scheduled to perform during the show, along with Charlie Robison, who has served as a celebrity judge for "Nashville Star." Music anthologist Robert K.Oermann and veteran music industry professional Tracy Gershon also have been celebrity judges during the show.
A reprisal performance with the 12 original contestants will be held, along with the winner singing his or her debut single, which goes to radio Monday, following by a whirlwind radio tour, photo and video shoot to support the record. Sometime during the month, the winner will perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
Saturday night might be the end of the television show, but it is the beginning of a new adventure.
"In a sense, it will be the end of a really long journey," Jewell said about the show's finale. "But also, the beginning of a really long journey. Whoever wins Saturday, that's when the real work starts. It will be a great moment, but it will only be a moment. You will have to get to work and make sure your star keeps shining."
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