Seven stars face the "Country" challenge on reality show

Sat Jan 19, 2008 6:35pm EST
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By Ken Tucker

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - The idea of bringing together strange bedfellows to entertain the masses is as old as "Gilligan's Island" and "The Gong Show."

More recently, the concept has been effectively demonstrated by ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," among a never-ending string of reality shows.

The latest mashup is CMT's "Gone Country," which brings together '80s R&B star Bobby Brown, former "American Idol" contestant Diana DeGarmo, Latin artist Julio Iglesias Jr., "Brady Bunch" principal Maureen McCormick, R&B artist Sisqo, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider and singer/TV personality Carnie Wilson in a contest that nets the winner a country single release.

The ringmaster/pot stirrer/maestro/taskmaster for the show, which debuts January 25 on the network, is Big & Rich's John Rich.

Filmed in late October, "Gone Country" finds the contestants living together in the Plowboy Mansion, the 27,000-square-foot home north of Nashville co-owned by the Muzik Mafia, a genre-bending creative trust whose members include Rich, musical partner Big Kenny Alphin, Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy.

While such shows as Fox's "American Idol" rely on their audience to pick a winner (albeit with entertaining judges to ostensibly guide them), "Gone Country" is more akin to NBC's "The Apprentice" in that the only person contestants need to impress is Rich. In the first episode, he arrives on the front lawn of the mansion in a helicopter, bedecked in a full-length fur coat.

During a subsequent down-home Southern dinner, Rich explains to the housemates their challenge: Each will have to compose an original country song with the help of Music Row's finest songwriters and perform it in front of a live Nashville audience.

The show provides plenty of tears (mostly from McCormick), testosterone-fueled tiffs (Snider, Rich), down-home humor (there's a toilet-seat-tossing contest) and, most important, music.   Continued...

<p>Spanish singer Julio Iglesias Jr arrives at the 32nd America's Cup opening party in central Valencia June 21, 2007. Iglesias appears in the new CMT reality show "Gone Country". REUTERS/Pascal Lauener</p>