I’ll admit it right out of the gate. I’m worried that Lifetime’s new reality series, Chasing Nashville, might devolve into the “Singing Moms” version of Dance Moms — squabbling mothers living vicariously through their talented kids. But I hope I’m wrong, because I’m a sucker for younger buskers trying to make it big and because it took mere minutes for me to become attached to two of the show’s core cast members, Autumn Blair and Helena Hunt.
Blair is a 17-year-old coal miner’s daughter from Chloe, W.Va., who dreams of making it big in country music so her dad can leave the mines behind. Hunt, also 17, is a lanky earth muffin from Clyde, N.C., with an angelic voice and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude about fame. Helena’s mother took her to a Loretta Lynn concert when she was little and convinced a friend to let Helena get up on stage and sing a song. She enjoyed herself so much, she asked for a banjo and stayed right up there.
Rounding out the cast are Pikeville, Ky., resident Savannah Little, 14, the doted-on daughter of momager Robyn, and Lauren Marie Presley, 13, a native Texan whose own intense mom Lana (pronounced Lay-na) thinks Lauren might be related to Elvis. She doesn’t know for sure. But maybe. Can’t hurt to say so.
Lauren says singing is like breathing, the most natural thing in the world for her to do. But it’s Lana who’s pushing her to be a star. Lana owns it, saying she’s known Lauren was going to be famous since the girl was 5. Lana married a Presley on purpose.
Savannah and her besties Tyra and Celeste, who are also singers, discuss the upcoming vocal competition at Hillbilly Days, a popular Pikeville tradition in that Savannah likens to Christmas.
Lauren and Lana are also headed for Pikeville. They’re moving there to give Lauren a better shot at Nashville stardom, says Lana, though it doesn’t make much sense to me, since Pikeville is a tiny town a good 325 miles from Music City. In any case, Lauren isn’t happy about the move because she’s had a tough time with Savannah and her crew at other competitions and isn’t eager to make it a daily event.
Arriving at the festival, Autumn says Hillbilly Days will mark the most people she has ever performed for. She’s worried, though, because she’s nursing a nagging sore throat. To cheer her up, her spirited grandma Mamaw decides to try her luck on the mechanical bull.
“This sounds like the beginning of a joke,” says J., Autumn’s molasses-voiced miner dad. Either way, it’s good medicine for Autumn.
Backstage at the competition, Lauren meets up with her new friend Julia whom she met at another competition. Lauren says that she will be singing “How Do I Live Without You” by LeAnn Rimes in the contest, but admits moving hasn’t left her a lot of time to practice. And that’s just the beginning of her troubles. Savannah and her pals have arrived backstage, too, and plopped themselves down in plain view of Lauren, trying to psyche her out. It works. She topples over some costume racks and Julia tries to hep her laugh it off.
Though Helena’s mom has attempted to glam her daughter up a little with highlights and the suggestion that she trade her glasses for contacts, Helena is as content cuddling the lambs on the family farm as she is chasing stardom. Even though she notices that most of the other girls are pageant-queened up in big hair and little dresses, she stays in her tank top and jeans.
We learn that at the end of today’s competition, 10 contestants will be chosen to go on the next day’s finals. The winner will get $500. Then we meet the judges — a pair of local celebrities and Keith Thomas, a record producer who has worked with Whitney Houston, Amy Grant, Vanessa Williams and, he says, most recently Chris Mann from The Voice.
Savannah says competing against her friends is hard, but she’s still in it to win it. She’s been competing at Hillbilly Days since she was 7 and the contest’s MC welcomes her like a local celeb, too. She sings Grace Potter & The Nocturnals’ “Stars,” saying the track is slower than what she’s used to, but it went alright.
The judges say she looks like a star and her performance was solid. To me, it was like watching the most talented girl in the high-school choir.
Next up is Julia Knight, Lauren’s friend from backstage. Lauren says Julia is unique because her music is her music — she’s not trying to be like anyone else. Julia is clearly talented and comfortable in front of the crowd and knows how to dress to suit her style and stand out in a tasteful way. She gets good feedback from the judges, too.
Helena worries that she doesn’t have the stage presence the other girls do, and her mother tells her to just go onstage and be herself. Helena performs “Oh, Atlanta” by Alison Krauss. She looks and sounds nervous and the crowd appears restless as she sings. Lana pronounces her boring.
The judges tell her that she sounded good, but she needs to work on her showmanship. I’m good with Helena just the way she is. If she sings to the judges like she sings to the lambs, she’ll be just fine.
Autumn goes next. She is wearing jeans, too, but hers are sparkly and match her sparkly shirt. Autumn confesses to the crowd that she’s fighting off a bug but says she just had to come because she loves to sing.
Savannah pronounces her intimidating. Autumn sings Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor” with a ton of talent and charisma to spare. Keith calls her a star, predicts she will have a bright future in the business and says if that’s how well Autumn can sing with a sore throat, he can’t imagine how well she can sing when she’s 100-percent.
Poor little Lauren is a nervous wreck. She forgets the words to her song, which makes her too nervous to use the stage. In the audience, Lana looks bereft. She says Lauren has never done this badly at a competition and she can’t imagine how come. Lana has forgotten what it’s like to be 13 and the odd girl out. Maybe Lana never was one.
Lauren can’t hide her misery, but Keith is kind and says there were moments that she sounded great. She just needs a little vocal coaching to get her through the rough spots.
When it’s time to determine the top 10, Keith says he’s lucky to find a single performer with potential at competitions like this. Today, he saw several. Lauren wasn’t one them — only Autumn, Julia, Helena, Celeste, Savannah survive to compete for the win on next week’s episode.
So what do you say? Will you be chasing more Chasing Nashville next week? Who’s your favorite singer so far? Let us know in the comments section below.
New episodes of Chasing Nashville premiere Tuesday nights at 10/9CT on Lifetime.