Charlie Jenkins might not be this year's Nashville Star, but his time on the show could just elevate his status in the country music world after all. The singer was recently eliminated by judges John Rich, Jeffrey Steele and Jewel and I was in on a conference call with Jenkins to talk about his experience on the show. Here's what he had to say.
Could you just talk maybe a little bit about what's next for you? I understand maybe you've canceled some dates or stuff this summer. How does - how is all that going to work out?
Charley Jenkins: Yeah. You know, one of the fortunate things that - you know, going into this competition is that, you know, you never knew - I didn't know I was going to be in the Top 12 until a couple of weeks prior to the final show and or to the airing of this first show. And so through - we just continued to book as many shows as we possibly could and when we found out that I was going on to the Final 12, we put a lot of those shows on hold that we could. Other ones we canceled. But as soon as I was eliminated we got on the phone and started to recover as many shows as we possibly could. And what's next for me is, you know, I'm back - just back in the saddle again with what was going on prior to being on the show. We have a pretty full summer of great shows lined out, mostly within the Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming region and we're just, you know, go right in - I'll be going into the studio doing a new album which will be my fourth album. And just so - and just out there playing as much music as I possibly can and trying to keep momentum that I'd created prior to this show going, and hopefully a little bit more with what's going on now.
At the risk of sounding like I'm overly defensive of you because you're local for us, a lot of people -- including me -- seemed to think that the judges were unnecessarily harsh last night. Did you feel that way?
Charley Jenkins: You know, on my end there's - the reality of it - of the show is that there's so much that you can control and there's so much you can't control, meaning song selection and also often your staging and where you can and can't go on stage, and where you should go, and kind of your role within the competition as an overall look of the competition. And so, in my situation I was criticized for the way that I went down into the audience and that was a big criticism that they gave to me. That was beyond my control. That was part of something that I was suggested and kind of asked to do. And so when they criticize - when you're listening to the judges criticize the other contestants, it's kind of a jaded criticism on my - on the contestants' side because you're able to know what was that contestant, they didn't really have a choice on some of these scenarios. So it's not as personal. I think that they were a little critical, maybe especially for the first show. I think they could've worked into it a little bit more. But they've also got very strong opinions, all of them, and at least they're willing to share them.
So what was kind of your thoughts of your performance? After it was done, I mean, did you think you had done enough to stick around for another week?
Charley Jenkins: The answer to that is I did feel that I was - I should be in contention now. I don't feel that I definitely didn't win the night, nor do I feel like maybe I was even in the Top 5. But out of the 12 acts, I felt like that - honestly that I wasn't - I didn't believe that I would be in the bottom two. I still don't think even Alyson that was pulled up there should've been in the bottom two as well. I felt like there was a couple other acts that went on that night that didn't perform even up to her standards of what she did. And so, of course, it was, you know, disappointing. But the reality of it is - a show like this is that you get different voices that pipe in and make the decision even away from the judges. So you never now exactly what the agenda is - like exactly what they see and what they don't see. And you just kind of have to run with it.
So you know, if it was based on fan voting, you know, how do you think you would've done? Were - are you confident that you had - you would've had enough fan support out there to keep you on the show?
Charley Jenkins: You know what, I do. I feel like I could've been around for a little while. I don't - you know, I would never be arrogant enough to say that I would've won the competition. And to be honest, that wasn't my overall objective. I just wanted the opportunity for America to see me sing. I feel - there is a part of me - a big part of me, especially after the show and waiting around for it to air that it just looks out and thinks, you know, there is 11 - there was 12 contestants, 12 acts. Eleven of those get America to decide on and one of them doesn't. And in reality, you kind of feel like you just got cut from the final. And so it's kind of - it's sad when you just don't get that opportunity - what I feel like to get that opportunity for America to decide because I think it's a little easier when America decides versus three people's opinions or a network's opinion, I guess.
Which country or western artist influenced you the most in your own style growing up and listening to music?
Charley Jenkins: Well, you know, I'm a hodgepodge of different - you know, I try to say different aspects of different artists. It's the way that they perform to the way they - their vocal performance to even how they are on stage. I grew up rodeo and I grew up around the western lifestyle. You know, it was engrained in our family. And so, you know, I'm driven more toward artists like George Strait. However, if I were to mix - if I were to create somebody that would be hey, you know, I want to have their type of career, if I could I would mix George Strait and Garth Brooks together and, you know, have somebody who does rope and ride and knows that western thing but also, you know, moves around onstage and creates such a buzz, and is such a great entertainer. So if I could mix those two together, that would be my ideal artist that I would want to be.
Do you think John Rich went overboard in his criticism?
Charley Jenkins: John is very opinionated and I know in his own career he has received a lot of great criticism and a lot of very negative criticism himself. And I think, you know, in his expression - in doing so, he's got these really, really strong opinions. One of the things about this competition that's hard is that John is responsible for taking the winner in and producing their album, and also writing the song that they're going to sing. So if that one particular judge does not feel that you are the artist that he wants to work with, he could really sway the competition and take it away from somebody that he doesn't believe in - him personally.
Are you personally pulling for anyone on the show now?
Charley Jenkins: You know what, I don't - I became such good friends with all of the contestants that it was - it would be very hard for me to even vote. I do believe that there are contestants that I think have, you know, artistic advantage. But that - my opinion is - you know, coming from somebody that really has more of a country-based opinion and there's certain things I like and don't like. And so there are a couple artists I feel that have a really strong chance of making the finals in my opinion.
Maybe like a general - just like grouping of people just off the top of your head?
Charley Jenkins: Well yeah, I think, you know, I think on the - I think the girls in the competition are stronger than the guys right now, honestly. Of course, Melissa was fantastic. I think as an overall artist, working with her and being around Ashlee Hewitt, I thought that she, you know, she's got such a great control of her vocals and she can play the guitar and sing, and she's also a great songwriter. So I think she's very strong on that side. On the guy side, somebody that could really find a niche and has the vocals, and the lifestyle is Gabe. I mean, he's the real deal when it comes down to his vocals. So if there was two people on each side, I would say Gabe and Ashlee.
I wanted to ask a little bit more about Garth Brooks because they were comparing you to him, but they were making it sound like it was a negative thing. I didn't get that.
Charley Jenkins: Well one of the drives that they - one of the things I think they were upset over was that, you know, I don't really know exactly. I'd have to ask them exactly what their mentality was. But they did not like the fact I came down in the audience and was more geared towards trying to entertain the audience than maybe sitting up there and singing. You have to think about the artists themselves that are judging me. For example, Jewel and John, I don't think they have a reputation of doing that and that's not anything that they do in their own show. And so, I don't know if they - it makes them feel uncomfortable or if, you know, it's something that they don't think is necessary and maybe is more distracting on a great vocal than it is beneficial. So that's the only conclusion I came to on their judgment. And, you know, if they compare me to Garth Brooks, in my book that's a huge compliment because, I mean, when you talk about eras in country music, you refer to the Garth Brooks era. You don't refer to a date. It's the Garth Brooks era. And to me, that's one thing that country music is missing right now, is another era of an artist like that.
Can you kind of sum up your experience? Do you think it was a positive thing? Do you think it will help your career? Are you happy that you did it?
Charley Jenkins: You know, I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity just because it was a platform to millions of people that would never - I wouldn't have gotten at least, you know, at this quickly. I just want to weather the storm and see what kind of reaction comes from this and then I'd - I'll probably be able to answer that question later on, when I see the result and also see how, audiences in the future react to me, whether it was a positive or negative thing.
Now even Jeffrey said you have a great voice. I was just wondering how are you going to turn this experience into a positive?
Charley Jenkins: You know, one thing that, you know, doing something like this does is it does expose you to things that you can do better. And, you know, watching myself on TV and having that type of look and a real analytical look, there's certain holes in my game that, you know, that I realize that I could become better at. And those are - you know, it drives me to say you know what, I'm going to work on those and I'm going to - so if any opportunity or down the road that they won't be exposed like they were on Monday.
What did you take away from the judges' feedback? Like is there anything that's going to stay with you of what they said?
Charley Jenkins: Yeah. I mean, one thing that really stuck with me is Jewel - and I don't know if this came out on the taping - on the - was that she said I was a little stiff. And I don't know if she said - if they viewed that or if they played that. And watching it, I felt that I was a little stiff. And I felt like, you know, I can convey and be a little smoother in my movements and just a little more relaxed when I sing. And that's something that I'm going to work on just because I want my audience to feel relaxed so they can enjoy what's going on.
In terms of the performance, you know, the dancing and the going into the crowd, how comfortable were you with doing that and is that something that you would normally do in a live show?
Charley Jenkins: I would. I do it quite a bit actually in a live show, but I usually do it later in the show, you know. I don't like to - you know, I don't usually come out and go right into the audience and do something like that. You know, when you only have a minute and 15 seconds, you have to make the most of it. One of the things that is a challenge in the technical side of things is that once I left the stage I had no monitors. And so I was listening - you know, the band was clear back in the corner and so for me to hear the music, I was listening to what was coming out of the main speakers. And one of the challenges and one of the things I think while watching the viewing or watching the show, is that because of that, my - I wasn't in the pocket as well as I would like to be and I think I over sang the song a little bit. You know, so that was one technical challenge that I had singing the song and I think I over sang it a little bit. So I was a little uncomfortable because of that. But other than that, you know, I'm pretty comfortable being down in front of the audience.
I'm wondering, you know, in the past 24 hours or so what kind of reaction have you gotten from your fans about your performance?
Charley Jenkins: You know, it's been tremendous - those who know me and people who don't know me. I think the overall consensus they're giving - and you know what, and I don't know if this is fair because, you know, I'm being contacted by people that have some sort of hard share in what I'm doing or have some connection, I think. But I think the consensus that they gave is that -- and the reality consensus I'm getting -- is that they didn't maybe believe that I should've won the competition, but they didn't believe I was in the bottom two or the last - or should be the first one to go. And they're just - in their mind, they're questioning their overall idea of how this thing really went down and of course, there's a tremendous amount of support. And I absolutely - it's just been - like they've just wrapped their arms around me. But in my mind, I have some questions, too but it is what it is, and that's what I'm trying to tell them - is you know what, we'll just try to make this into a positive thing.
I actually interviewed John Rich prior to the show hitting the air and he was pretty critical of American Idol and how the judges are so harsh. I'm wondering if you see a difference in how you were critiqued last night than what you see on American Idol?
Charley Jenkins: There's a different dynamic with the judges, I think, than American Idol. And I don't know if it's good or bad - time will tell. You have two current artists that when you're - whoever wins this and their album comes out, they're going to be sharing shelf space or online publicity and possibly taking that type of space away from those two current artists. Jewel is just trying to come out with a country album or has come out with a country album. John Rich has produced his, you know, his second major album with Big & Rich and is probably going to be coming out with a third. And because of that, the dynamics of judging changes and, you know, and I don't know if it's good or bad. I haven't really - I've had a chance to think about it. I'm starting to form an opinion in my mind whether that's good or not. But, you know, I think having another current artist judging you is going to be - I think it's even more critical. I think the judges in Nashville Star were more critical of us than I think you would get in American Idol.
How much do you think a contestant's fate is tied in with a song selection even before he or she performs?
Charley Jenkins: Huge. You have a minute and 15 seconds to show the world or to show those judges what you can do and, you know, and so you have to make the best with the song, you know, the best that you possibly can. And so it's absolutely critical that the - you know, that the song matches you and that you can maybe even have a song that you could do something with. The song that I particularly had is pretty much mainstream country with a little staccato. You know, it could get a little more chopped up. But I don't think I brought anything really fresh and new to the song. I didn't know exactly what I could do with the song to make it more appealing than what I did. And so it's absolutely critical that, you know, that you necessarily get a great song to work with.
I also wanted to ask you about - more about John Rich. And you were making a great point about how he is going to work with the winner of the show. He's going to produce and write for the winner. What do you think his own personal musical sensibilities are, meaning what do you think he's actually looking for?
Charley Jenkins: Well he says he's looking for a new face, something new and crisp, and big to bring into country music. I don't know exactly - this is the - this is what I knew going in. We had - at one point during the tryouts, he was telling the contestants that hey, this is a country show and these are - you know, because they - some of the contestants are more pop and kind of less mainstream country. And there was a big irony, in my opinion, of his view of country when you looked at his style of country music. Now (granted), he's written some great country songs and I'm not going to take that away from him. But, you know, it's hard for me - somebody who is a George Strait fan and straight up, you know, pretty much loves that type of country music, to get lectured when somebody has got a rapper and, you know, more of a gimmick, you know, even a midget in their band, you know. It's just more of a - and I hate to say that. I don't want that to sound, by any means, bigoting for anybody. But I'm just saying, it's just a completely different way - style of country music than I'm used to. And to be honest, I don't know exactly what he's looking for but it definitely sways -- and did last night -- swayed my involvement with the show because if he doesn't believe in me, if that one judge again does not believe in me, then I have no shot.
I wanted to know how did you feel about the judges' Garth Brooks comments? Like do you think you went too far in that territory?
Charley Jenkins: You know, I didn't feel like I swung from the rafters or I did anything that was completely like over the top, you know, above what I should've done. And then I just went down the crowd and looked people in the eyes, and sang to them. And then went back up onstage and tried to get them clapping, you know. Again, if they are bashing on Garth Brooks, they're - I think they're picking on the wrong person.
Nashville Star airs on Mondays at 9 PM ET on NBC.