1 of 6 | Left to right, Mickey Guyton, Orville Peck and Jimmie Allen star in "My Kind of Country," premiering Friday. Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.
NEW YORK, March 23 (UPI) -- Jimmie Allen, Orville Peck and Mickey Guyton -- singer-songwriters and talent scouts for the new singing competition series My Kind of Country -- say they think fans of the folksy music genre are ready to welcome some fresh new faces.
"I love how it was about finding artists from different countries. It's cool watching everybody be themselves," Allen told reporters in a virtual press conference ahead of the Nashville show's premiere Friday on Apple TV+.
"I don't want to change country music. I want to add to it," he said. "We don't want to take away from what people love about it, but we want to change how it's viewed. We want it to be a place where EVERYBODY can do country music."
Peck doesn't believe country music fans are given enough credit for being open-minded.
"They want that diversity and they want those new stories," Peck said.
"Absolutely! They just want good music, no matter who it's from," added Guyton.
Allen thinks music executives are more reluctant than actual record buyers to give chances to newcomers who don't fit the traditional country artist molds of straight, White, American Southwesterners.
Allen and Guyton are Black Americans, while Peck is a White, gay South African who wears a variety of facial masks as part of his public persona.
All three are award-winning, chart-topping country artists.
"I've had conversations with executives on the country side before where I've said: 'If you want your business to succeed and excel, you're really kind of cutting yourself off at the foot because you can have this artist and then this artist and then this, instead of having six artists who look the same, sound the same and wear the same clothes,'" Allen said.
Peck agreed, "There is a lot of gatekeeping going on," but said this doesn't accurately represent the vibrant assortment of people making and/or enjoying country music.
Allen said, "There are the fans who want it and we have a lot of executives who understand there is a big world out there and they want to hear country music in totally different ways.
"It takes artists like Orville, Mickey and myself that don't look like the stereotypical country artists to put music out there and be seen on television, on Apple TV+, that way people can see and hear artists who might look like them."
He said it also takes those who DO look like traditional country music stars to embrace and support them if they are to succeed.
"Oftentimes, marginalization comes from the misconception that we are different, rather than seeing how much we have in common," Peck said.
"I stopped thinking, 'This contestant is from India...' And I just started thinking, 'We're all just artists here,'" he added. "The margins just disappear because we are all sort of in the same lane."
My Kind of Country, which was produced by Reese Witherspoon and Kacey Musgraves, gives artists from all over the world the chance to showcase their talent and compete for a recording contract with Apple Music.
Allen said he was looking for contestants with determination.
"People who will continue to show up no matter how many doors close in their face because, in this business, you're going to be told 'no' a lot," he added. "When you fall, you get back up. That's what living is. It's survival."
He was also drawn to contestants who understood their own strengths and weaknesses.
"It's not about looking a certain way or sounding a certain way. It's: 'Do you know you?' and, 'Can you market yourself? Can you really tap into what you need to tap into to get other people to connect with who you are?'" Allen said.
Vulnerability and authenticity are essential if one wants to make it in this industry, he added.
"I feel like what connects us as people isn't joy and happiness, it's pain. When you find someone who has similar pain to you, you really feel that connection," Allen said.
Guyton wanted to see artists be honest about their intentions and what they wanted the audience to feel.
"I look for the heart," she added. "Music is almost like worship in any genre and when you hear something, it makes you feel something, emotions."
Peck was on the hunt for unique and intangible qualities that made the artists stand out from the pack of talented performers.
"They were all artists with specific things to bring to the table," he said.
As someone who personally struggled early in his career with how to present himself, Peck hoped he could encourage contestants to appreciate their gifts and be themselves.
"Sometimes as performers we want to be employable or we want to be likable or we want to be successful and we think that means we have to change who we are and show up in a way that is palatable or preferable," he said.
"When I finally got to the point where I learned that actually just me showing up as myself is the best version of me, that became the most successful version of me, too."
Guyton emphasized to the contestants the importance of mental health, knowing the toll the intense competition and constant attention can have on one's emotions.
"You have to shut out the noise and there is a lot of noise," Guyton said.
"I talked to this therapist because I still struggle with nervousness and she says: 'Take a minute and be in the moment and say: I'm OK. It's OK. Thank you. Be grateful. Be present in the opportunity and know that you are enough.' You have to know you are enough and this isn't the end all, be all."
Describing her audition for American Idol several years ago as "nerve wracking," Guyton said My Kind of Country went for a different vibe on set.
"There were so many cameras around and there were so many more contestants on American Idol. This is more boutique and small," she said, adding she wanted the artists on her show to speak up if something doesn't feel right to them and not feel overwhelmed.
"Stand up for what you believe in and trust your gut. It is almost always 100 percent right," she said.
According to Allen, it is also crucial that artists be clear about how they define success.
"For some artists, success means touring stadiums, touring arenas, having a No. 1 country song," he said. "But to other artists, success means just writing songs and it means playing a venue for five people."
Peck admired the contestants who had the courage to leave their homes and families to compete in Nashville in front of strangers.
"And, at the same time, have us ask them to be more vulnerable. Show us more. Show us who you are!" he said.
Despite the many ups and downs that came with pursuing a career in country music, Peck is still enjoying the ride.
"It is an intersection of showmanship and performance and storytelling with sincerity and I think that that is a really cool place to make art from," he said.