What Does ‘Real Country’ Mean? Judges Shania Twain, Jake Owen + Travis Tritt Reflect
By Carena Liptak
November 8, 2018
The breadth of country music is well-represented in the trio of judges for USA Network's new televised singing competition, Real Country. Industry icon Shania Twain, "modern" star Jake Owen and traditionalist Travis Tritt work together on the show to hand-select the most captivating new acts in the genre.
"The great part about this show being called Real Country is that I think 'real country' encompasses all different types of music coming together to be whatever it is that individual artist does," Owen explained to The Boot backstage before a taping of the show. "For instance, I'm in the country format, but my type of country music doesn't sound like Travis Tritt, and it doesn't sound like Shania Twain. So for all of us being up there and everyone giving their individual opinions, we're all coming from the same place even though we might not have all had the same career path, and I think that's valuable to these contestants."
Every country artist and fan has a slightly different perspective on what "real country" means, Twain adds -- and that's part of the beauty of the genre. "My perception of what it was, for example, when I was a child and when I was myself a developing artist, was nothing like what the Nashville industry thought it was when I got to Nashville 25 years later," she says.
"So what that's really taught me is that the meaning of 'real country' evolves," Twain goes on to say. "It evolves with the generations. It's been evolving since the beginning, since the history of the genre began. And that's what's so beautiful. Country music fans move and grow and, actually, determine a huge part of what it is in that moment."
Real Country's contestants represent all aspects of the genre, and come from diverse backgrounds and musical traditions within the format. One contestant, Micah Woods, is a singer-songwriter from Brooklyn who was recruited by Twain after she saw him during a residency at a Dumbo hotel, and who grew up on LeAnn Rimes.
"There's videos of me [as a kid], like, with my little Fisher-Price recorder singing "Blue," and belting it out," he recalls with a laugh. "I have always done a style of country [that]'s very country / pop / folk / Americana. Especially my songwriting style is very 'three chords and the truth,' which is country to a T."
Another Real Country hopeful, Jamie Floyd, didn't have to travel far to compete on the show: The Florida native has spent the past two decades paying her dues in Nashville as a working songwriter, penning songs such as Ashley Monroe's "The Blade." However, her run as a contestant on the new TV competition represents a last chance of sorts for Floyd.
"I'd lost all my deals recently and gotten dropped from my publishing deal, and [my performance-rights organization, SESAC] told me, 'You should check this out, now that you've gone back to waiting tables and kind of hit a low point,'" Floyd shares. "The music business is very difficult, and I'm still waiting tables. But I've been very grateful just to have made it this far to [competing] tonight, and it's been incredible so far."
For Twain, who is an executive producer of Real Country, an important part of the show's vision was audience input. During tapings, a live studio audience voted on each contestant to determine who moved to the next round of judging.
"I believe in the fan choice. That is the opinion I respect the most," Twain says of the decision to put audience members in control of the selection. "I make music for the fans. I write songs for the fans. I do it for the response, for the reaction, for the connection. I mean, how else could you possibly really get an authentic, genuine vote?"
The first of eight Real Country episodes will premiere on Nov. 13 on USA at 10PM ET.