Hey, I'll admit it. You know it. I'm a country blogger. So I had a bias right from the beginning when watching this season of Celebrity Apprentice. In addition to loving John Rich for his Nashville creds, I knew he had the brains, creativity, and fortitude to go all the way in Donald Trump's challenge.
However, as the weeks went on, I realized that more and more people I talked to--some of them devout country haters--were not just favoring but downright digging Rich's smart, levelheaded personality on the show. So, although Marlee Matlin put up great competition in the show's finale, it was no surprise to me that Rich ended up taking home the title (as well as a whopping million bucks-plus for his charity of choice, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis).
I spoke to Rich on Tuesday when he visited Los Angeles and was en route to taping the Ellen show. As you might expect, he was in an ebullient mood over his victory--in fact, he even serenaded me with a raucous interpolation of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'." After asking him to be "the serious John Rich" for a few minutes, I asked him a few questions that had been burning in my mind since seeing Trump sport that Stetson on his head Sunday night--including digging for some news on that funloving duo some of you probably remember called "Big & Rich." Read on!
Our Country: I loved your entire presentation for the Apprentice finale and, like many others, thought you had it in the bag. Just one thing--the Def Leppard set-time glitch. I find it hard to believe that you would make that mistake. You are a professional musician and you of all people would understand set times. So how did that happen?
John Rich: What happened was, right before that little hiccup there, I had DollarGeneral walk in right as I was mentally preparing for the show--and drop a quarter-of-a-million-dollar check on me out of nowhere. And it completely rattled my cage. I was blown away by it and it threw me off my game.
It would take something that big to throw me off my game because I had this thing down. On lockdown. When he showed up and dropped that quarter-million dollars for St. Jude--hey, I'm not gonna lie, it threw me for a loop. And I messed up and I got ahead of myself and said "Ladies and gentlemen, Def Leppard," and there's no Def Leppard. They didn't do anything wrong, it was all my fault. But have you ever had anybody walk up and hand you a quarter of a million dollars, for anything? I mean, that is a big, big deal.
Our Country: Okay...so basically, you were just excited...and you jumped up on stage without checking the time? That's all that happened?
JR: That's part of it. I got amped up, and was just...my God, let me go! [Trump and the executives] had already been up there for almost a half an hour. And I got worried that if we didn't kick this show into gear, they were gonna start looking at their watches. It was a combination of a few things like that.
Our Country: How rigorous was the taping for the show? Lil Jon said that he wouldn't do it again, so I'm guessing it was pretty tiring.
JR: You were up every morning at 6 o' clock--and if you were back in your hotel room by 11 o' clock at night, that was a good day. There were no breaks except for Sundays, and that only lasted for three weeks. I was there for almost eight weeks. So for the final five weeks of the taping there were no days off. So that was 35 some-odd days in a row.
But you know, that's part of the challenge, honestly--the mental reconditioning. Because your body just goes to hell in a handbasket. You feel terrible. Your brain ain't working right, your body's not working right, and you continue to get piled on with the stress and competition. At the end of the day you're focusing on your charity. That's the one thing--really the only thing--that pulled me through. Remembering who I was playing for were kids who need that money so bad. They need that chemo, they need that help that we can give them, and that awareness. And that's what I focused on, and that's what pulled me through.
Our Country: Your win on the show is obviously going to bring a lot of newfound attention to your music career. I know you are releasing solo material right now, but I think a lot of longtime fans are wondering what's the future for Big & Rich.
JR: I'm glad you asked that. Big & Rich--we've been on a hiatus for almost three years now. And I know a lot of the fans are going "Oh my God, what happened, they're gone." We've never been gone, we just changed our personal interests for a while. [Big Kenny and I] are two very different individuals, and it was a conscious decision to take a little time and and go in different directions. And we did that--and then we decided, you know what, let's go back to making Big & Rich music. I think the fans are still out there, we still have a great time playing music together, and we're nowhere near finished. So this summer, we're going to [tour] 40 to 50 cities.
Our Country: Touring is great, but everyone wants new music from Big & Rich too!
JR: Absolutely! Our first single is called "Fake ID" and it's going to be featured in the upcoming release of Footloose with Julianne Hough. There's going to be a choreographed dance around it--we just shot a video about a week ago that's going to blow your mind. It's old-school Big & Rich, rock n' roll country. I think it's long overdue, personally. I've been waiting for this and Kenny has too. We're getting ready to relaunch that rocket ship, and it's gonna be fun to watch!
Our Country: Did Kenny call you up after you won Apprentice?
JR: Kenny did hit me up, and he just told me how proud he was. He was around it a little bit in New York--we had some radio folks come up, and Kenny was in New York, and we had a couple of moments to ourselves. He was just shaking his head and saying "Wow, man, how hard was this?" And I was like, "It's one of the hardest things I've ever done. It may be the hardest thing I ever did." He seemed to have a lot of respect for that...and I said, "Man, you ought to be next! Why don't you go on and try? Big Kenny on Celebrity Apprentice!" Then we had a really good glass of wine and celebrated!
Our Country: I'd love to see Big Kenny on Apprentice--I think he'd be good!
JR: I do too!
Our Country: Speaking of newfound attention to your music--in addition to your win on the show, American Idol has two country finalists going at it this week. Country is everywhere, and seems to have hit a record peak this year. What do you think of all this mainstream attention to the genre?
JR: Listen, this is undeniable proof that country music is bigger and stronger and more widespread and has more momentum than it ever has. To see those young folks on American Idol singing country music, and they're in the final two--that's all the proof you need. I'm really proud of that. Proud of country music, and proud that folks are finally recognizing what a great fanbase we have and what a powerful entity the country music genre really is.
Our Country: Speaking of that. You're a country expert--who's your pick for the Idol win?
JR: They're both totally different. But they're both great. I can tell you that Nashville will have open arms for both of them. And the songwriting community is going to be something that I think they are going to love. When they get to Nashville and they get to sit down with some of the great, great songwriters and write their own music and sing what they've always wanted to sing...Ask Carrie Underwood about it. Ask Kellie Pickler about it. Hey, if they call me up, I'd love to write a song with either one of them!
Our Country: I have told all my Apprentice-fan friends that I'm speaking with you today. And every single one of them had the same question for you: What was it really like working with Gary Busey?
JR: Ha ha! Well, Gary Busey. He's a unicorn. I have him on speed-dial, because if I ever wanna go to the Twilight Zone, I just hit that button and I know I can go there any time I want. He's number one, a big-hearted guy. Number two, a talented guy. Number three, completely harmless. But not the kind of guy you want to be around for days and days on end. It becomes difficult at that point. But in the real world, he's a fine guy. I like being around him and spending time with him. He's a good dude.
You can still help out John Rich's charity, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. If you'd like to make a donation, you can click here for various options. Additionally, you can purchase his song "For The Kids" which he performed on the Apprentice finale here. All proceeds will benefit St. Jude. Thanks John, for helping out so many kids!
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