The Colgate Country Showdown, now in its 27th year, is the nation’s largest and longest-running country music talent search and radio promotion.
The event, whose finals are being held tonight at the Ryman Auditorium and hosted by country star, actor and author LeAnn Rimes, has an impressive list of past local, state and regional winners. In addition, the Colgate Country Showdown is quite different from the array of musical competitions that are now network television staples.
“We don’t attack or cast aspersions at anyone else,” said Dean Unkefer, the president of Special Promotions, Inc. and producer of the showdown. “But the big difference between the Showdown and a program like American Idol or America’s Got Talent is that by design their main focus and emphasis is on being the best television show possible.”
“We’re trying to provide the best forum for the contestants and offer them the best opportunity to showcase their talent,” he added. “You can’t really do that properly in that Idol setting. On the Showdown, the performers really get the time and opportunity to show what they can do.”
More than 50,000 performers compete in the Colgate sponsored local spring competitions held in conjunction with 450 radio stations around the nation. During those 550 plus live shows, more than $300,000 in cash prizes are awarded. Then those winners compete in state and regional competitions throughout the summer and fall.
Five finalists ultimately compete for the grand prize of $100,000. A televised one-hour special airs in syndication during March and April in markets covering more than 90 percent of the U.S. population and on ABC affiliates in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles (locally on WZTV-17).
Participants are judged on five core criteria: Marketability in Country Music, Vocal/Instrumental Ability, Originality of Performance, Stage Presence/Charisma and Talent.
“The things that are often underestimated when it comes to the Showdown concerns the strength of the local performers and the important role that radio plays in the competition,” Unkefer said. “If you look back at the track record of our winners, you’ll see that this competition has helped start the careers of some great artists.”
Past Showdown winners include Brad Paisley, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Billy Ray Cyrus, Sara Evans and Miranda Lambert.
The quartet Nash Street, known for an inventive blend of bluegrass, folk, country and blues, were last year’s winners. This year’s finalists are Korey Blake, Johnny Bulford, Lance Lipinsky, LiveWire and Matt Reeves. Unkefer adds that Rimes, who will host the finals for the third consecutive year, is the ideal host for the event.
“She knows first-hand what it’s like to work your way up through the ranks, to be a scuffling artist, and she empathizes with these performers,” Unkefer said. “She’s been just wonderful for us as a host, and she’s someone that our finalists look up to as an example of perseverance and determination.”
Rimes recently became the first artist with a song on Billboard’s Country, Adult Contemporary and Dance charts simultaneously. She’s previously won two Grammy awards and enjoyed sales of more than 37 million albums. The first country artist to ever win the Best New Artist Grammy and the youngest Grammy winner ever, Rimes co-wrote every selection on her current disc Family, and she has won three Academy of Country Music and 12 Billboard Music Awards.
Hosting the Showdown begins the start of another busy year for Rimes. The single “What I Cannot Change” has been nominated for a Grammy in the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. After the Grammy Awards, which air Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. on WTVF-5, Rimes is releasing her third book in April through HarperCollins.
It is a volume inspired by the single, and will offer stories from people whose experiences mirror the song’s chronicle of personal transformation. The book also includes lyrics, photographs, a special alternate version of “What I Cannot Change” and an introduction penned by Rimes.
That will be preceded by another film role for Rimes, this one as the lead in the Lifetime Television Original Nora Roberts’ Northern Lights, where she’ll be joined by Eddie Cibrian and Rosanna Arquette. This will be shown on March 21.
The Showcase, a free event, will give fans the chance to not only see Rimes, but hear the rising class of country performers.
“I’m really proud and happy about the caliber of competition that we present each year in the Showdown,” Unkefer concluded. “This year will be another outstanding one.”
What: The 27th Annual Colgate Country Showdown National Final hosted by LeAnn Rimes
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Ryman Auditorium, 116 Fifth Ave. N.
Info: 889-3060, 458-8781