Interview: Billy Ray Cyrus & Howard Owens from Nashville Star

by Emma Loggins

We had the honor of sitting down with Nashville Star host, Billy Ray Cyrus and creator/executive producer Howard Owens to talk about the new season of the show, and what fans can expect to see this season. Here’s what they had to say:

Can you talk about will there be any changes this year?

Howard T. Owens: There will be changes. Billy Ray Cyrus is the host and we obviously have three new judges this year – John Rich, and Jeffrey Steele, and Jewel.

And just from a – the format perspective, there are some changes. We are now introducing duos and trios, so that’s an exciting part of sort of country history for us in American music heritage. There’s a group of, you know, signing groups and, you know, you have The Judds, and you have the Kingston Trio, and you have Rascal Flatts. So introducing duos and trios is really exciting to us and opens up the competition and also the flavor of the kind of music that the people will hear.

And we – the other, you know, big changes are obviously our judges and our hosts who bring so much to the table, and then what we’ll be doing, you know a variety of creative twists and concepts along the way. The show will be heavily themed as part of the NBC’s American Summer. We did a big partnership with the military where we went on and Billy Ray personally went on the U.S. Iwo Jima and contestants from the military auditioned. They did casting all over the country for it and actually a serviceman to be on the show – a kid who is absolutely incredible. And I’ll stop talking with that.

Okay and Billy Ray, can you talk about how you got involved with this?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Yeah, first I’d just like to follow up where Howard left off about being on the battleship up in Norfolk, Virginia and being there with the military and seeing, you know, the whole country coming together in the celebration of music at a time where there’s just so much turmoil. It’s already been a highlight for me and we haven’t even really started filming the real show yet. This is like an absolute opportunity of a lifetime and I’m just so excited about being partners with NBC in this exciting venture.

Again, there’s a lot of – there’s some new dynamics to the show this year that I think are really going to be exciting. Being on that battleship – I don’t know if you’re familiar with a song I wrote called Some Gave All, but Some Gave All is a very decorated song throughout the military. And when we stood on that (hood) of that battleship and sang Some Gave All and all those families, and kids, and moms, and dads, they all sung along. Again, this has already been a great highlight of my career and we’re just now getting started. So I’m very excited and very thankful to NBC for allowing me to come onboard.

Can you talk about the judges who are also mentors – the mentoring part of that?

Billy Ray Cyrus: That – now you just turned me on right there. That’s one of the things that I’m most excited about. I think our panel is very unique to any competition that has ever existed before.

John Rich obviously has become a staple of country music right now that, you know, quite frankly, every now and then somebody kicks the door open for country music with something new and fresh. And John Rich from Big & Rich has been able to do that and really brought a whole new vitality to country music, and that door right now is riding a wave of momentum that’s very positive for country music.

Second of all to see an entertainer and a singer/songwriter like Jewel, I mean my goodness, she is amazing. I have been a huge fan for a long time, so to sit and to listen to her, I didn’t know she was so witty, and the way she came up with this – some of these things in this pre-tape, she’s very sharp. She’s a sharp cookie and I think she’s going to entertain folks.

And last but not least, I have to comment on probably one of the greatest secrets in Nashville right now. But I do believe that Nashville Star will probably help expose this – one of the judge’s names is Jeffrey Steele. And Jeffrey Steele is today’s Kris Kristofferson of Nashville. He is the guy with the pen and the paper that’s writing the most and biggest hits coming out of Nashville right now. He is like the voice of country music. And I’m not sure a lot of people are aware of him, but I do think as the summer plays out when people see his personality, he’s just very charming. I don’t know any other way to say that. He’s got a gift of gab obviously with his pen.

And speaking of gift of gab, I should probably hush up and let Howard (talk).

Howard T. Owens: But Billy Ray is right and, you know, we have four very contemporary, very now artists who are anchoring the show in Billy Ray, and Jeffrey Steele, and John Rich, and Jewel.

And I think, you know, what Billy Ray and I witnessed on the judging panel in our preliminary runs was Jewel sitting there giving voice lessons from her chair saying, “Open up your throat like this if you want to sing. You’re being too nasal.” John Rich saying – looking at a trio and saying, “Why are you guys singing in three microphones. All get around one microphone and harmonize.” And Jeffrey Steele going up to a guy and saying, “You’re playing that note wrong on the guitar. Grab the guitar like this.” I mean it was very visceral, it was very real, and it’s nothing like you’ve seen on any other show.

What is the grand prize this year?

Billy Ray Cyrus: I’ll let you take that, Howard.

Howard T. Owens: The grand prize this year is really cool. It’s a deal with Warner Brothers and AEG Live. So Warner Brothers – Reveille, and Warner Brothers, and AEG Live have partnered. The winner will get, you know, a major record deal and a tour – a North American tour.

And in addition, the winner will get a performance from the Olympics on NBC in Beijing this summer, August, right after the show launches. So what the winner gets is a – you know is an opportunity of a lifetime – a dream come true to bring your art, and to bring your artistry, and to bring your music to America, and to the people here, and it just feels huge.

You know Warner Brothers and AEG Live have been incredible. And as Billy Ray referenced, you know NBC has been so utterly supportive of our efforts and it just feels incredible.

It seems like some of the winners have faded off the map. Billy, why do you think that is and what do you think is going to change that this year?

Billy Ray Cyrus: I can’t speak a whole lot to the past; I can only speak to the present and the future. Because now – I know – I can feel. I see what’s going on and I can tell you right now they have a cast that is very, very talented. As a matter of fact, I’d have a hard time whittling it down to nine right now.

I mean they – we’ve got – I think it’s 10 to 12 major top contenders – very talented. It’s about the total package of an artist – a singer, a songwriter, and entertainer, and the intangible. How much are you willing to grow, how much are you willing to listen to these judges and take the steps forward, you know.

I think there’s a lot of missing links to the exact equation of, you know, what’s going to bring the winner, but I do know you know those things combined with the fact that America votes is what really, really makes it exciting.

Now I would like to step off just for a second Howard. You triggered a thought to my mind and I don’t want it to get away. I know that part of the end result is something very special with Beijing, China and this is a question to you. Is there anything we can do as this summer progresses to put together some type of package to where the end result is when this deal makes it to China, can we go a little bit further south and help these folks from this earthquake?

Oh, yeah.

Billy Ray Cyrus: Is there something we can do? Is there something that we can do to utilize this for a common good and – do you know what I’m saying?

Howard T. Owens: Yeah.

Billy Ray Cyrus: It’s just an off the wall (question) for you to ponder later, but if…

Howard T. Owens: Totally. No, I mean we would like to obviously help these people, so anything that we can do to be a part of that would be incredible.

I’d also like to just mention that, you know, part of I think the old – you know the old show was on cable. You know it was – it’s a show that, you know, has you know obviously it was on cable, you don’t have a broadcast platform. But I feel like we did pretty well with some of our stars and it was very telling that Sunday night Miranda Lambert won Best Album of the Year. I believe that was the award on the AMAs. So that’s a pretty huge accomplishment for a girl who was on Season One in the final episode of the show and obviously created a huge fan base from our show.

So I feel like we have a great history of picking talent and I think it’s going to really – as Billy Ray mentioned, the talent this year is incredible and very diverse, and very representative of what American music is today.

Has your Miley ever thought about going country, Billy?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Hey, you know what, whether she’s thought about it or not, she is and can’t deny it.

What’s the appeal of being the host rather than a judge?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Well I – you know I’m not one to judge anybody. I’m not one – I guess that comes from one who has been judged too much. And I’m not one to pass judgment on anybody – that’s not what I do. I couldn’t do it. It’s not even an option for me. I don’t do that.

You know what I will do in my capacity will – I’ve been down – I’ve been to the fair and I’ve seen the bear… I’ve walked these streets and knocked on the doors of Nashville, you know, for well over 15 years before that first album, Some Gave All, you know. I will be a good mentor to these young people and anything that they want to ask me, in good faith I’ll give them the best answer I can you know possibly think of that is the truth. And the one thing I preface all my statements with to everybody is the one thing I do know is I don’t know nothing.

Are you trying to model yourself as a host after anyone? Is there anyone you like as a TV host right now?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Well you know I ain’t trying to model myself off nobody because it would be in vain if I did. I’ve never been one to follow; I kind of do my own thing. And to me, the definition of an artist is you know – do you know the difference in an artist and an act?

Tell me.

Billy Ray Cyrus: Okay, an act is someone who says, “Tell me what you want me to be and I’ll be it.” An artist is someone who says, “This is what I am, I hope you like it.” Well I’ve tried to represent that my entire career; that’s what I’ve always tried to be about. It’s about the music. It’s about being real. If it flies, it flies. If it don’t, at least I’ll go out being myself.

Now are you filming a movie right now?

Billy Ray Cyrus: I am neck deep in Hannah Montana. Not only that, I’m finishing my new album. My new album is appropriately titled, Back to Tennessee. It’s a song I wrote with hit singer/songwriter Matthew Wilder. You probably know Matthew had a humongous hit in the ’80s with many, many big pop number one records throughout the last 20 years.

He and I – when I found out we were going to be filming the feature film for Hannah Montana in Tennessee, I got real excited and my spirit started dancing a little bit, and I grabbed my guitar and we wrote this song called Back to Tennessee. It’s just a very honest feeling of what it feels like to be coming home.

And will that be in the film?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Yeah as a matter of fact, I do perform it in the film. I perform that song in the movie. And so my point is I’m finishing up the album, I’m doing my vocals, and harmonies, and some mixes and stuff. I’m doing the feature film of Hannah Montana and Nashville Star kicks off in a week.

So I’ve definitely got a full plate right now and the good news is I’m really excited about all these things coming together while they are. It’s an intangible of momentum and momentum is always that thing that either you’ve got it or you don’t. And for right now, it’s kind of in my corner so I want to, you know, get the music out, and get this film done, and do all of these things to the very best of my ability.

Can you talk a little bit about what this means for the country music industry and particularly when you talked about your own experience of trying to break into the industry?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Well, I think there’s a couple things that are going to factor in. Number one is our panel of judges who – I mean this is a – you know not only are they the critically acclaimed, you know, movers and shakers of the industry and talented artists and singer/songwriters, you know they’ve walked these streets too, you know.

Second of all, our panel that we’ve already got, our contestants, I’ve seen them firsthand. And I know – and thank goodness, I’m not a judge because I watched the judges and I watched the producers of the show trying to narrow down this list for the finalists. And quite frankly, it was pretty tough because the level of competition has risen tremendously – I mean tremendously. This was just an outpouring of great talent. And you know from the military on down, it was just really powerful.

So I think putting those two things together and then combining the fact that this was the first season on NBC, that’s a real – that’s a good spot to be with the right thing going on.

And do you think it means that maybe country music is – I mean I live in Boston and it’s very popular here. But do you think it is even making country music more – I don’t know if mainstream is the right word, but more into the public eye and that people everywhere are learning more about country music? Have you seen a shift in how people view country music or feel about it?

Billy Ray Cyrus: I can only speak of what I’ve been (through) personally and you being from Boston, I can say two words, Indian Ranch. If you listen to me do interviews around the world, people will say, “What’s some of your favorite shows you play around the world?” I’ll always say, “Indian Ranch.” Indian Ranch is probably I don’t know 45 to 60 miles out of Boston. I’ve played it every year since 1992. It’s one of the biggest, funnest parties on a lake anywhere on this planet. It’s great.

To me, country music has always been alive and well in Boston, but you’ve got to keep in mind Achy Breaky was also a big pop record. So our foundation there has remained pretty solid throughout, you know, from the young people, to the middle-aged folks, to mammow and pappow, and now throwing Hannah Montana in the mix hasn’t hurt things either.

Howard T. Owens: Sorry, if I could just interrupt. You know when Billy Ray and I first met and talked about the show, we talked about Billy Ray’s roots in Tennessee and some of his influences. And you know we talked about, you know – I mean because when we talked about the show, we talked about where we thought country music was today – country music representative of George Strait, to Sugarland, to Bon Jovi, to Jewel, to Billy Ray Cyrus, to you know the greatest American rockers and the greatest American players and country music singers.

You know and when we looked back to the show, the kind of music we’re going to be playing is not just, you know, what people would call radio pure country, but we’re playing – we want to play Bob Seiger. We want our contestants to play, you know, Lynard Skynard. We want our contestants to play, you know, things that, you know, aren’t branding country music to what it traditionally is branded, but using all the influences of country music. And Billy Ray knows a lot of those influences and it was great to know we were on the same page.

Billy, would you have done a show like this if you had had the opportunity? Do you wish you’d had the opportunity like Nashville Star exited when you were trying to get into the business?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Oh my goodness, what I wouldn’t give. I could look 15 years younger. (I’ve been around). I had to go down a lot of unpaved highways. I had to learn through some mistakes that I would make. As you know, Thomas Edison said, “The most important ingredient for success is failure.” Every time you fail, you eliminate one way that won’t work and therefore being one way closer to the one that will.

Well trust me, I failed in just about every imaginable way you can fail at trying to attempt something, but somewhere throughout the persistence of all that, I found one way that would work and it became that first album, Some Gave All, with the leadoff single, Achy Breaky Heart. But I had to put in a lot of time and effort to get to that point where Nashville Star if it could have been there could have saved me, you know, 15 years of heartache.

Will the contestants again this year be required to perform original material?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Oh, you know what, not only required there will be instances where it’s preferred. We’re looking for a total package here; we’re looking for a real American artist to emerge. And to me again, the definition of an artist is, you know, somebody that says, “This is who I am. I hope you like it,” you know not, “Tell me what you want me to be and I’ll be it.”

As far as how the winner is determined, will there be any changes in the voting process, or will it still be (fan voters)? And will judges have any input in the voting?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Oh my goodness, have you seen our panel of judges?


Billy Ray Cyrus: As you well know, that’s three of the most respected artists in the – walking the planet today. I mean this is an unbelievable panel there, you know. Jeffrey Steele as you well know, I’m comparing him to today’s Kris Kristofferson. There is not doubt he’s one of the – he’s the voice of what’s coming out of Nashville right now with all the hit songs he writes. I mean again to kind of address that other question; songwriting will be a part of the (package).

Oh, okay and there will still be a fan-voted award show though?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Well, that’s the most exciting part, you know. I mean it’s all about the fans and you know the way that – you know it’s the vote of America. That’s what makes this – you know that’s really the ticket.

Okay and addressing and earlier point that was made about the winner or about the show maybe not producing the winner or producing a star, it seems like in the past that the show has not really worked with country radio very closely as sort of a follow up to the winner. Will there be any – do you think there might be some change in that where you sort of try to work with radio a little bit more to promote the winner of the show?

Billy Ray Cyrus: I’m going to let Howard address the bulk of that, but let me just start it off by saying I do know for a fact I’m seeing it, I’m feeling it, and quite frankly working it right now. Country radio is very involved with this show and there’s a great deal of excitement about the show, the connection with NBC, the panel of judges, the momentum of country music.

Country music is in a great spot right now. My buddy Waylon Jennings and Carl Perkins too, they always said, “Man, just keep doing what you do and stay true to your roots.” And country music it will always come back around, but all genres of music go in cycles. And you know thanks to John Rich and the movement with the music mafia Big & Rich, I think they kicked the door wide open with Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy) and country music has been riding a very positive wave ever since.

And Howard I should turn it over to you here.

Howard T. Owens: No, everything you’ve said is actually spot on, Billy Ray. Country music has been, you know, from our perspective incredibly vital in building this franchise. Country music radio has been vital for building this franchise over the last five years. This is the longest running cable reality competition show on TV until we transferred – until we made the move to network.

So for me, you know country radio was uber supportive as is Nashville and the country music community. People have been so gracious and so open arms. It just so happens we were on cable and now we’re on broadcast and now it’s going times ten. But it feels like everyone has been so supportive.

John Rich has made comparisons with this show to American Idol. Could you talk about some of those differences and how you think maybe Nashville Star serves country a little bit better than say an American Idol might?

Howard T. Owens: Well I think obviously this is a show about country. And American music about – you know shows – you know I think every one of our contestants sans one plays the guitar and they play a real guitar. It’s a real aspect of their musicality and their performance.

And I think, you know, we were the first show to play with a live band. If you recall, the first two seasons of American Idol played the track. You know they – in my estimation, they mimed a lot of what we’ve done. Our contestants played instruments; our contestants wrote their own songs before American Idol contestants played instruments, before American Idol contestants wrote songs, which they experimented in in one season.

Our show has always been about heart, our show has been about truth. We’ve always said, “Nashville Star where the music is real.” That’s sort of been our internal tagline and that’s what I’m believing, that’s what Billy Ray is believing, and that’s what our show is about.

Our people are real. Our people are not – you know the contestants this year are not sort of people who necessarily grew up, you know, in the semi-pros of the music industry. Our people are mother – you know one of our contestants is a mother of five. Another of our contestants is, you know, an African-American from the middle of Texas who is a single father of a 6-year-old – of an 8-year-old- girl. We have people who just, you know, have lived lives. Country music is about storytelling. We’re going to tell the story of these people in context of their search for the American dream.

And I think, you know, in some ways, it’s similar to idol and in other ways, it’s a totally different show. When you look at our show, it’s going to look in my estimation other than being a talent show, it’s a totally different show with a different vibe, and a different energy, and a different, and you know, heart.

In the past, you’ve always had like one guest name band perform, usually at the beginning of the show. Are you going to do that each week this time?

Howard T. Owens: It’s funny you should ask because we’re going to have some special guests, but we’re sort of in the process of figuring out how much we want that to factor into the show. This year, we want to make it about our contestants, and our hosts, and our judges. We feel like we sort of have the perfect storm and the ingredients of that show. Does that mean that we’ll have you know people from the country music world on the show, but I don’t know?
I doubt we’ll be opening up the show with that as sort of our, you know, format hook that we did in prior seasons. We’ll probably position them in the show after we, you know, introduce our contestants, and our theme of the week, and our hook – you know our creative hook of the show.

Now after the first year or show, you quit showing the auditions and you started straight with – you had your Final 10 or Final 12. Now you were talking about auditioning on a military ship and so forth. Does that mean that you’re going to be showing auditions in these early weeks this time or…?

Howard T. Owens: The first half of the show of the first episode is going to be the search. It’s going to be the search for the next Nashville Star. We’re going to be showing how we found these people, where their first audition was, you know how Billy Ray interacted with them, how the judges did, so there will be some storytelling similar to Season One in fact.

Okay and then the second half of the show were showing us – how many was it, the Final 12 or Final what?

Howard T. Owens: The Final 12 will perform for the first time on stage. And the judges will eliminate one of the Final 12. And the judges will make that decision. And I’m probably leaking things out that haven’t been leaked, but I figure what the hell.

Given that this show is all about giving worthy artists that big break, I was wondering who is the pivotal person in helping you early in your career – the person who, you know, most inspired you, or influenced you, or motivated you, or helped you, or saved you, or changed you? Who might that person be and why?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Well there’s no doubt and it’s been well documented about the letter that Johnny Cash wrote (to me) in the summer of 1992. I was in the middle of the storm of Achy Breaky and for every action, there’s an opposite and equal reaction. And there was you know – it was just – there was a lot of stuff circling around that whole – the album was at Number 1 for 17 weeks in a row on Billboard’s Top 200, a record which still stands to this day, you know, for a debut artist at 17 weeks. So a lot of things was going on around me.

And during the height of the storm, Johnny Cash had (sent) a letter over to my manager’s office and it was handwritten from his desk with his letterhead and his writing, and he said some very kind things. And he ended it with, you know, “Always remember to give thanks to Almighty God, for all things that are good come from him.” He said, “Let him have it. I’m in your corner.” And those words – I’ll tell you to this day, I look back at that as that was a pivotal – that was a big moment for me.

When Bruce Springsteen was quoted as saying, “Hey everybody, get off his back. It’s just a damn good little rock and roll song.” That was big stuff for me, you know. I needed to hear that from the people whom I had admired and loved the most and Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen were two of them.

You do have so much going on between hosting, acting, your own music, managing the biggest act in the world right now, and your own family. How do you balance it all?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Yeah, I’d like to have a real slick answer and say, “Oh, I do this and I do that and I do this,” but I’m going to be honest with you because we ain’t neither one got time to bull crap each other. It ain’t balanced. It’s out of balance. It’s like you know man I am just getting just as hard as an old man can go, and quite frankly, I’m loving every second of it. I ain’t going to complain. I mean I’m – I have some very creative things in my life right now that that’s what I have always loved to do and that’s what I love to do now. I love to be creative.

I’m making an album of a lifetime, which is titled Back to Tennessee. The first single is due any week now. We just shot a video. It’s not really the single, but we did this real cool version of Sheryl Crow’s Real Gone and we made a video for it two weeks ago and it’s starting to air this week. So it’s going to come out as kind of like the opening act of the album and then I think perhaps we’ll go with – the first single may be the title track Back to Tennessee.

But I’m saying all of that to say this. I’m loving making this album right now. I’m loving that creative aspect. I’m loving making this feature film of Hannah Montana. It’s a great script. I mean I’ve watched this script develop and it went from good to great. And it’s – I’m really loving what we’ve got going on.

I’m loving as a daddy the fact that just a few days ago Miley and I did a scene where I honestly stood back as a professional and go, “My goodness, that little girl can act.” Man, it’s – she’s putting in a heck of a performance and it’s a great script.

And then the icing on the cake is the gig with Nashville Star and NBC. It’s so exciting that it’s NBC’s first season with the show and this great panel of judges that we’ve got that’s actually just so artistic themselves and a talent in their own right. And then I know that our panel and our contestants are absolutely the cream of the crop. So it’s going to be a fun summer.

Cool and Father’s Day is coming up. What does your family do to give you a special Father’s Day?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Yeah, that’s a good one. That’s a good one. Ask me the day after and I’ll tell you. That’s a good one. I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be working.

Billy, what advice do your kids give you about hosting the show?

Billy Ray Cyrus: You know what, they haven’t given me any. I’m hoping they will, but they haven’t given me any yet.

How do you think you’ll compare to Ryan Seacrest?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Oh, man. We’re two different animals, man. He’s a great human being. He’s a fantastic host, you know. I mean there’s no doubt he’s doing what he was born to do. He’s amazing at it. That show wouldn’t be knocking down the incredible numbers that they’re knocking doubt without the fact that he was right there in the seat of that thing, you know, from the foundation doing a great job. He’s a great host. He’s a great host.

I can only say that to say this. I’m not him nor will I ever attempt to be. I’m a guy – I’m Billy Ray Cyrus from Flatwoods, Kentucky. I grew up on country music, and southern rock and roll, and Pentecostal bluegrass. You know that’s who I am.

I’m looking for – it’s about the music for me. It’s about the fact that I knocked on these doors in Nashville during the decade of the ’80s. I mean for well over ten years, man I knocked on just about every door and most of them two and three times, but never got in. But again, from every experience I learned something from that. Most importantly, I learned that, you know, persistence is to the quality of the character of man as what carbon is to steel. You know persistence isn’t a very glorified word, but it’s the important word.

And what kind of bonding have you done with the judges this season?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Oh my gosh, well I’ve got to say this. The most important bond with any of the judges I have to say thus far, I’d have to say Jeffrey Steele and I go back a long ways. I’ve known for quite some time that he is today’s Kris Kristofferson. He is a singer, songwriter, entertainer, and I’m quite frankly in hopes that this show will also showcase just what an incredible talent Jeffrey Steele is.

Now in saying that, recently I’ve been a big fan of John Rich’s. I’ve known, you know, that he was a great producer, and a great singer, and songwriter, and entertainer, but I didn’t know him personally until a couple of weeks ago. He invited me down to his club and oh my gosh, I did things I hadn’t done in years and that – it will be probably a long time before I do them again. But one thing I did do was I laughed a lot. He is an entertainer; he is a funny son of a gun.

And then you throw in Jewel. And number one, she’s just so stunningly beautiful she could just sit there and let us look at her, but she’s also highly intelligent and a great talent. So you throw all those three things together and Jewel is a jewel.

And lastly, who will be in the audience supporting you during the live shows? Who can we expect to see?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Oh my goodness, well I do know that a lot of the members of my fan club where I had to cut my summer tour a little bit short. I’m still in the middle of a tour. I’m in the middle of finishing up the album and obviously right in the middle of doing the Hannah Montana feature.

But along with that, we try to make it real special for the members of our fan club. And where I’ve had to skinny down my tour to fit in all these dates of the movie and Nashville Star, we’re going to try to have special nights where, you know, some of the members of my fan club get a chance to come in and join the audience. I think that will be a lot of fun for them and certainly a lot of fun for me.

Howard, how you went from all the jobs you did to country music. What was the excitement?

Howard T. Owens: That’s a good question. I definitely had to get my country music mojo on when I came up with the idea with Ben Silverman for Nashville Star. All of a sudden USA Network wanted to buy it and I was like, “Oh my God, what am I going to do?” So I did my best.

I mean literally – Ben and I literally put on cowboy hats, got on a plane, went down to Nashville, and (bet) every record label, got every country music record in addition to going out in L.A. and having fun, and listening to some Skynard, and listening to some Billy Ray, and listening to some, you know, whatever we liked – Allman Brothers, Bob Seiger like I said.

You know at the time, who had big country number 1 hits. I think Dirks Bentley was just coming out – we love him. We loved Trace Atkins. We love Montgomery Gentry. So we just got it on listening to music and decided to go embrace it and have fun.

You know there’s a romantic version of country music that is sort of the south and the heartland of this country that sort of is an easy buy in for me. I went to school in Dallas, Texas and a couple of my friends had pick ups, and I’ve been to a farm in my life. So I just sort of like embraced it, and smelled the honeysuckle in my imagination in my L.A. apartment, and made it happen.

Billy, what do you do when you’re home? How do you relax at all?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Oh my goodness, that may have something to do with why I look 100. I work for a living. Right now, I’m in the middle of doing the Hannah Montana feature film, Nashville Star, and I’m recording my album and doing a summer concert tour. I’ve got – I work a lot, you know. I really – you know maybe I’ll chill out and relax when this is all over, but right now I’m just enjoying the ride. It’s been a lot of – you know again, I keep going back to guys like Waylon, and Carl Perkins, and some of the guys that became my best friends. And they said to me things like, “Man, the funnest part about the ride is getting there. Once you’re up on top, there ain’t nowhere else to go but down.”

It’s the journey that makes life exciting. And I’m on an incredible journey right now and I just, you know, pray that God will give me the wisdom and the vision and the ability to be everything and all that I’m supposed to be at this special time period of my life.

Well and that sometimes – (there’s time sure in your life). How much do you devote to home? I mean you have to get home and rest or doing something don’t you? Or is it that your motor is always going?

Billy Ray Cyrus: Well, I’ve got – I’ve already got it penciled in in April of 2009, I’m going to lay down and sleep.

Nashville Star

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