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Nashville Star: Three Finalists Revealed!

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Tonight, the final three contestants for next week's Nashville Star finale were announced, but not before all four singers had to prepare two songs apiece--for performances that would, in fact, determine who wins next week.

See, the votes this week dictate next week's finale results, so each contestant had to be in it to win it, even though he/she had a 1-in-4 chance of getting cut tonight before even having a chance to sing his/her second song.

Man, that's rough. But them's the breaks in Music City.

So first up was Shawn Mayer. When she came out belting her first song, Gretchen Wilson's "Here For The Party," I was personally happy to see her back in butt-kickin' bad-girl mode, but I was also gravely concerned. I wasn't concerned that she'd be incapable of killing it on that Coyote Ugly-esque partystarter--and she did kill it--but I recalled how back in week one, she sang a Janis Joplin rawker and John Rich barked at her, "We don't need another Gretchen Wilson." Therefore it was a real risk for Shawn to do an actual Gretchen song. But then again, Shawn Mayer has never been a girl to run away from a challenge. (Remember her daring George Jones cover?) And this was another risk that paid off.

Even John went easy on her, saying she'd grown enough since her earlier Janis attempt (which I personally thought was just fine) that she could make a Gretchen song her own. And the way Shawn put on a brave, smiling party-hardy face, despite the fact that she was battling wisdom-teeth pain, proved she's a real fighter who's deserved to make it this far.

Gabe Garcia was next, attempting to conjure up a similar party vibe with a cover of Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett's Club Med happy-hour theme, "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere." Well, I'm sure it was party time somewhere--but not on that Nashville Star stage, unfortunately. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Gabe...but this was not his best performance. He was still a little too stiff, and he didn't hide his suffering (from a common cold) as well as Shawn repressed her own wisdom-tooth misery. The result was a not-so-caliente performance for Señor Garcia. Jeffrey Steele pointed out a few bum notes, and John, a strong Gabe supporter, seemed so worried that he pretty much begged America to vote for Gabe. Meanwhile, Jewel just reminded Gabe and the rest of America that she's from a small town in Alaska.

(We know, Jewel, we know. Give the Alaska thing a rest, already. And if you start talking about how you used to live in your car, I swear I'll change the channel!)

Coffey sang next, and his song of choice was "Sweet Home Alabama," a suitably anthemic crowd-pleaser that properly showcased his almost Tourette's-esque tendency to constantly whoop and shout adlibs to the audience. Coffey is a showman more than anything else--he's hardly the best singer on this program, but he's the most charismatic performer--and this tune suited his quirky, occasionally OTT style. John still hated it, though. He looked annoyed throughout Coffey's performance, like he wanted to punch someone (Coffey? The NBC staffers who casted Coffey?), and he pulled out his usual "I don't think you're really country" argument for the umpteenth time.

Really now, John insults Coffey more often than Jewel sings a cappella or mentions Alaska during her critiques.

Anyway, singing fourth was proud-mama powerhouse Melissa Lawson, and she actually out-Shawn-Mayered Shawn Mayer in the bad-girl department: by covering a song by one of the great girl-power icons, Pat Benatar. She gave "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" her best shot, and I personally loved it. I really enjoyed how she sang a song I wouldn't have expected from a nice mother of five, a song I'd more easily expect from a rebel like Shawn. Melissa's surprisingly tough-cookie-ish performance made me wish Nashville Star had done a "Rock Goes Country" night instead of "Pop Goes Country" a few weeks ago.

Jeffrey Steele didn't love it as much, though: He told Melissa he was a little tired of hearing her "big notes." But that made no sense to me. Some belters do oversing and over-emote, trying waaaaay too hard to be the next Celine or Mariah...but I don't think Melissa does that. It never sounds like she's trying too hard; it just seems like those big notes effortlessly emanate from her big lungs. So Jeffrey saying he's tired of hearing her big notes is like him saying, oh, I dunno...he's tired of eating delicious chocolate, or petting cute fluffy puppies, or lying on a big pile of Rascal Flatts-begotten hundred-dollar bills. Makes no sense at all.

John simply asked Melissa how badly she wanted to win, and she said something sweet but predictable about her kids, her family, blah blah blah. Yep, she's no dummy. She knows the voters at home will eat that stuff up. They'll eat it up like delicious chocolate, in fact!

So after that first round, it was elimination time. The first singer to make it through and be guaranteed a spot in the finals was...Shawn Mayer! Ooh, she wasn't a shoo-in, so I was happy to see her make the cut. Shawn has worked hard all season long for this, and she's had one of the bumpiest roads to Nashville Stardom of all the contestants. A relieved and delighted Shawn then returned to the stage, where she warbled the Garth Brooks ballad "The Dance" to show off her sensitive side--and while I'm not sure if it was enough to secure her first place in this competition, she should be proud to go home with the silver or bronze next week...and hopefully a few gold and platinum records later on, after some savvy A&R rep signs her.

Melissa made it through next, which was far less surprising. Despite a couple of inexplicable bottom-two showings earlier in the season, Melissa has for the most part been a frontrunner since week 1. (Side note: When I interviewed Third Town backstage at the NStar premiere, they recommended betting money on Melissa to win. And they're from Las Vegas, so they ought to know.) For her second tune, Melissa sang another reality star's family-friendly hit, Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take The Wheel"--which, once again, the voters will surely eat up.

John Rich sure ate it up, with gusto, shouting at the top of his lungs that this lady had a dang good shot of being the next Nashville Star. Guess he still has a crush on her.

And then it came down to Gabe and Coffey. Gee, I wonder who'd make it? Um, no, there was no upset here, no shocker, no cliffhanger.

Coffey got cut. Duh. No one was surprised, not even Coffey.

I'll miss Coffey, as I've intermittently enjoyed him over this season. I've got mad love for any soulful single dad who can singlehandedly popularize the catchphrase, "Everything's better with a little cheese on it!" But I'm glad Coffey didn't edge out Gabe, if for no other reason than John Rich would probably have punched someone if that had happened. And NBC doesn't need a personal injury lawsuit on its hands, especially right before finale night.

So Gabe sang last, doing another uptempo number, Kenny Chesney's "Living In Fast-Forward." And though his voice sounded great, as it always does, I was once again a little disappointed by his performance. He was trying very hard to loosen up, but it just came across as dorky and awkward. Like when he tried to get the audience to clap along with him, it was all just a tad too wedding-bandy. That's a move Coffey could have gotten away with, because it would have come naturally to him, but it clearly didn't come naturally to Gabe.

You know, if only some Weird Science-type Dr. Frankenstein could fuse Coffey's charisma with Gabe's vocal talent, we'd have the perfect country star: Coffey Garcia. It has a nice ring to it, no?

Well...no. Instead America will have to elect the next perfect country star, choosing between Shawn, Melissa, and Gabe. I am honestly torn about whom to vote for myself. Based on my own personal tastes, which lean more toward the rock side of things, I'd choose Shawn. Based on vocal ability, I'd choose Melissa. And based on what it might mean for the country music industry in general, I'd choose Gabe, because with his crossover appeal he could bust open doors for so many other under-represented Latino artists. Really, I'd be happy to see any of them win...

...Oh, screw that. Screw being diplomatic. Yes, they're all deserving, but I want Shawn Mayer to win. There, I said it. I know it's probably an unpopular choice, but hey, I've always loved to root for the underdog.

I don't think Shawn is going to win, though; I've got to go with Third Town and say Melissa will probably make it. And if/when she does, I'll be fine with that. She's a worthy contender, too.

But no matter what, I'll be at the live finale taping next week, so come back then to get my on-the-scene reports, and to find out who is indeed crowned the new Nashville Star.

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