Although most observers would agree that Trisha Yearwood comes across as a confident singer, she was, by her own admission, uncomfortable with live performances when first starting out, recalling a 1991 review of a performance characterizing her a as “singing stick” because of how little she moved onstage.
Although she sang throughout her young life, the Georgia native moved to Music City in 1985 to study music business at Belmont University, taking a minimum-wage summer job as a Country Music Hall of Fame tour guide in the summer so she could stay in Nashville. After graduating from Belmont in 1987, Yearwood worked as the receptionist at MTM Records, and was taking singing gigs when she could, all the while networking with songwriters and others within the industry. In 1988, she made her national TV debut.
From 1983 to 1992, TNN, then the TV destination for country music fans, aired a talent competition called You Can Be a Star. Hosted for the first six years by Grand Ole Opry legend Jim Ed Brown, the program featured hopeful country-music performers culled from an audition process (among those rejected before even getting a chance to compete was a young singer named Randy Ray, who would go on to greater recognition as Randy Travis). One of the show’s greatest finds was 27-year-old “Al” Jackson who worked in the TNN mailroom and was not competing on the show but merely seated in the audience when he sang a George Jones tune between commercial breaks. The future Hall of Famer’s appearance led to a songwriting job at Glen Campbell’s publishing company.
For the Nashville receptionist who was getting her own shot at stardom, advancing in the competition meant facing new challengers as the You Can Be a Star competition went on. Ultimately, Trisha Yearwood won a second-place finish during the 1988 season, but a year later she was recording with another young country-music hopeful by the name of Garth Brooks. She can be heard on her future tour (and life) partner’s self-titled LP, which has since been certified diamond for sales in excess of 10 million.
Yearwood’s own debut LP was notable for several reasons. The eponymous collection featured a song called “Victim of the Game,” which Brooks later recorded for his blockbuster No Fences album, and Yearwood’s album, led by her Number One debut hit, “She’s in Love With the Boy,” was the first debut LP by a female country artist to be certified platinum for sales of one million.
All artists have to start somewhere, however, and that brings us back to the above video, which is one of Yearwood’s You Can Be a Star performances. Having previously won during the week prior, she returned to face more competitors and to be critiqued by the panel of judges, which were most often a mix of country celebrities and Nashville music biz types. Yearwood’s song choice certainly suited her – a tune about southern hospitality, which, naturally, includes references to down-home cooking, an area the host of her own Emmy-winning cooking series knows something about. For the record, she does manage to move with the song’s playful rhythm a bit, but it would be hard not to notice, with what looks like a denim sheet (complete with matching bed skirt) wrapped around her waist. Fashion choice aside, it’s a lively vocal performance from the gifted singer, demonstrating why the road from cable-TV talent contest to the world stage was a pretty quick trip.
Yearwood is just days away from another notable TV appearance. On Palm Sunday (March 20th), she will play Mary, the mother of Jesus, in The Passion, a live, two-hour musical airing on Fox.