Last Friday's episode of CMT's Next Superstar offered up probably the toughest challenge the contestants have faced to date. And that's meant literally!
After undergoing a little stage-presence tweaking with famous choreographer Robert Royston, the group was delivered a cryptic basket of bandanas--then hauled off to a no-frills, ya-don't-wanna-be-here-on-the-wrong-night biker bar. Yup, their challenge was to impress a crowd of bona fide Hell's Angels types.
Okay, so it was "Outlaw Country Week," but heck...I doubt anyone was expecting that.
The seven remaining hopefuls rose to the occasion, performing a range of suitable covers ranging from Waylon to the Hag to the surprisingly appreciative crowd (as well as perpetually sunny guest judge Big Kenny from Big & Rich). In the end, the bikers voted, putting Bri Bagwell and Danielle Lauderdale into the positions of having to "Sing for survival."
In a surprising twist, judge Matt Serletic announced that he and the guest judges would announce the winner of the showdown on the spot--not in the boardroom the following morning, as per ritual. Bri Bagwell, who seemed to be a favorite among the cast, was sent home. Even Big Kenny looked bummed out.
However, the upbeat 23-year-old, who hails from New Mexico and is currently living and touring through Texas--she's on the road right now, as a matter of fact--bounced back from the sad occasion quickly and was in a bright, cheerful mood when I spoke with her. We talked a bit about her future plans--oh, and yeah, if she really did have anything going on with fellow contestant Ben Smith. (Hey--I knew y'all wanted to know about that!)
Our Country: What did you think of the biker bar challenge? Those were some pretty rough-looking folks.
BB: I don't think any one of us were prepared for it! They take us to this biker bar, and we have to perform outlaw country with choreography. Also, it was freezing cold out there. It was a whirlwind of a challenge, that's for sure.
One funny thing--they didn't air it, but right after I finished singing my song, this biker guy jumped right up on stage and gave me a big old kiss on the cheek!
OC: Ha! Were you scared of him? I might have been!
BB: (Laughs) I was a li-i-i-tle intimidated at first. But they were all sweethearts.
OC: Are you a fan of outlaw country?
BB: HUGE fan. That is like my favorite. I was really excited about the challenge, because I love that type of music. Hank Jr. and Waylon--those are like my anthems. Merle Haggard. So, yeah, that was the easy part [of the challenge] for sure.
OC: So that's why you chose to perform Hank Jr.'s "All My Rowdy Friends."
BB: I wanted one that was upbeat, because they told us it was going to be a rough crowd. I also thought it would be fun because it's a "boy's song" and I was turning it into a "girl's song." I did Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" [in the first episode] and I felt this was kind of in the same category--you know, it would be challenging vocally but still fun and upbeat.
OC: What did you think of the judges' criticism that you didn't pull the song off authentically enough?
BB: I think where my mind was at, I was focused more on the choreography part. I think my head was thinking a lot more about that, than it was about the singing. So I think they had a valid point at least about the authenticity coming through my voice. I agree with that one.
OC: I think that's fair. If we're talking about authenticity--I can't really see Hank Jr. worrying about his choreography while singing that song.
BB: (Laughs) Right. And you know, it really surprised me when I sang my sing-to-survive song, with my guitar. Robert said, we need to get you to stop hiding behind that thing. And that part I really didn't agree with...I mean, it's an instrument, not a wall!
OC: Yeah, and the funny thing is, I thought your sing-to-survive song ("Seven Spanish Angels") was where you came across really well. I'm not sure that the criticism of your guitar was useful when it actually takes away from your personal authenticity.
BB: Well, I appreciate that, because I agree with that!
OC: Are you a Big & Rich fan? Were you excited to see Big Kenny as a guest judge?
BB: "Holy Water" is one of my favorite songs of all time. I think I would have liked to see him under maybe different circumstances (laughs).
OC: Okay, so you knew I was going to ask this. Do you really have something going on with Ben Smith, or was that exaggerated for the show?
BB: (Laughs) Well, when he said goodbye, he really dipped me and kissed me! And that was a genuine reaction there. I was surprised!
We've been kind of texting--I'm on the road four or five days a week; I'm never home, so I have no time for a relationship right now. But yeah, we keep in touch. I don't know if anything will develop out of it. He's a sweetheart.
OC: I can't believe CMT's Cody Allen brought Ben up to you on the radio interview segment.
BB: I know! I was like, you are a brat, Cody.
Be sure to tune into a very special episode of CMT's Next Superstar Friday, May 6--the remaining contestants write and perform their own songs to a very special audience: U.S. troops at Fort Campbell who've just comehome from Afghanistan! I hear a rumor that Wynn Varble is going to sing a tune having to do with something about...well, let's just say it's funny and involves camels. Hope you (and the soldiers) like it, as well as the rest of the episode!
And, don't forget--I'll have an exclusive interview with the next eliminated hopeful next week!
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