Last week, on CMT's Next Superstar, the hopeful finalists were thrust into yet another totally unexpected challenge--this one, complete with a bonus emotional wringer attached.
The group was taken to Fort Campbell, Kentucky and introduced to the families of the the 101st Airborne division returning from deployment in Afghanistan. Some of these folks hadn't seen their enlisted loved ones in quite a long time, and they shared their stories with the contestants--who were then paired up with pro songwriters and told to compose an original song about the experience.
The returning soldiers and their families were then recruited to watch and vote on live performances of the new songs. As a fitting touch, Army vet Craig Morgan served as a guest judge for the challenge.
As anyone would expect, tears were shed, hearts were wrung--and some darn good original songs were composed as a result of the experience. It was no doubt a hard decision to determine who would be eliminated. But in the end, Andrea Pearson said good-bye.
Pearson's elimination was yet another genuine surprise--the 29-year-old Canadian is a seasoned performer who knows her way around the music business. She's already had a record deal--for pop music, not country, which she ultimately decided to leave in order to be true to her passion ("it just wasn't me"). She also has a publishing deal as a working songwriter and musician in Nashville, where she's been living since she graduated high school.
So, as one might imagine with all of her credentials already in place, Pearson is not knocked off her feet by her elimination one bit. She put the finishing touches on the ballad she wrote for the military challenge (you can see the video below) and is continuing on with her active musical career. In her spare time, Pearson is a passionate animal activist, fostering dogs for adoption and working to help out in this area however she can. She is also kept busy with three dogs of her own, as well as a cat and a horse!
I sat down and talked with this well-rounded performer a bit about her experience on the show.
Our Country: This particular challenge seemed to be pretty hard. I can't imagine having to write a song, cold, in one day.
AP: I kind of went into it thinking it was going to be one of the easier challenges for me, because as far as songwriting, i've been writing for about 8 years and I have a publishing deal. I've probably written about 600 songs.
OC: Meeting the military families appeared to be incredibly emotional. How did you hold it together? I was about to cry when the 15-year-old girl you were talking to started crying while talking about her deployed father.
AP: I started tearing up. When she was saying that, it floored me. I can't even imagine. I mean, it's hard enough for me being [in Nashville]...my dad's back in Canada. And I don't get to see him that much. Maybe twice a year. So I can relate a little bit...but when you're a kid, or a teenager, you just want your father to be there. I felt for her so much.
OC: Okay, this is going to sound harsh, but having to write a song about such an emotional experience seems as if it would have the potential to go kind of hokey. How did you approach writing the song in a way that avoided cliches?
AP: As a songwriter I just try to let the emotions inspire me, and not force it. Coming home that night I was having ideas popping into my head, but I was just letting them simmer and I tried to go to sleep. Waking up in the morning, I was trying to get ready, and literally the song that I wrote just came to me in 15 minutes. I had to keep running over--between trying to get ready--running over and writing it down as fast as I could. So it was truly an inspiration. If you put yourself in the position of what any of those people are going through, you'll have a million ideas.
OC: You were paired with songwriter Carolyn Dawn Johnson. Do you think the producers chose her for you because she is also Canadian?
AP: I have no idea, but the funny thing is, I knew Carolyn! So when she came in I nearly fell over. It was just kind of wild how that happened. I actually knew most of the songwriters, just from being in Nashville and writing a lot. I love Carolyn, she's just talented all the way around. She can write, she can produce, she's great.
OC: Did you have a hand in the arrangement of your song as well as the actual songwriting? I loved the fiddle part especially.
AP: That's one thing I really love about the show--they encourage that. I love doing arrangements; that's one of my favorite things. So, yeah, they let us say what instruments, and how we wanted the song to go. They followed that really nicely. I was excited how it turned out.
OC: The judges overall didn't seem harshly critical of your performance or song at all. Given that, were you surprised that you were in the bottom two?
AP: I totally was surprised. Like I said, just going back to the fact that it was songwriting--just my experience with that, I've been doing it for so long. And I've worked with so many people, and had nods from so many people in Nashville. So as a songwriter, it was just kind of like, wow. It took me aback.
But at the same time, you never know how it's going to pan out. You never know where you're going to be placed. I was placed between Matt and Wynn, and I wonder if that had something to do with it. They were very opposite of the song I was doing. So it's kind of hard to get the crowd to shift from one mentality to another.
OC: "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" was an unusual choice for your "Sing To Survive" number. Why did you choose that song?
AP: It's just a song I've always sang and loved. It's something I used to actually sing when I was a little girl. And it's something my dad and I shared. I figured if I was gonna sing to survive--he's been sick, he's got Alzheimer's, and he's not been well at all back home. I figured I'd sing something for him. It's not the most country thing, but I don't define country necessarily by talking about cornfields or haybales or by having a certain instrument. It's about telling a story and being conversational and real.
OC: And, as you demonstrated, it's about family.
AP: It's about family and making it your own.
Don't forget--I'll have an exclusive interview with the next eliminated hopeful next week!
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