Nashville’s Answer To ‘American Idol’: ‘Nashville Star’

Mister D: Well I can hardly wait…who knew the world was so “star” deprived…anyway this gal has good taste in role models:

Isle girl among finalists to be ‘Nashville Star’
“Nashville Star”: Airs 9 p.m. Saturdays on USA
By Rod Thompson

HILO >> Tasha Kaiulani Valentine, a Hawaii girl “gone Nashville,” will get her first national exposure Saturday when the cable television USA Network kicks off a nine-week competition to pick its first country music winner on the “Nashville Star” show.

Born in Honolulu, where she began performing at age 5, Valentine has been associated with Hawaii’s music and comedy team the Society of Seven throughout her childhood, said her father, Kirk Pu’uohau-Pummill, who lives in Hilo.

Valentine began singing country music in her teens while living in Albuquerque, N.M., with her mother, Vicki Carr. She adopted her last name from her grandmother, one of several family members who loves country music, she said.

“I love sad love songs,” Valentine said in a telephone interview from Albuquerque.

Throughout her childhood, Valentine spent half the year in Hawaii, half in Texas and later New Mexico. She still refers to Hawaii as home, and she reminds audiences of her origins with a large flower worn above her right ear.

She shows her family connections by wearing her great-grandfather’s western shirts during her performances, Pu’uohau-Pummill said.

Valentine will be among 12 country music finalists chosen from a field of 8,000 entries from around the nation competing on “Nashville Star.”

Following Saturday’s two-hour premiere, from March 15 through to May 3, 12 finalists will “sing it out” in an elimination competition on consecutive Saturdays until just one is left on stage.

“Nashville Star” will be aired each Saturday at 9 p.m.

“It couldn’t have happened at a better time,” Valentine said. “I’d just finished a three-month gig on South Padre Island in Texas — for which I was never paid — and was wondering what I was going to do next, when I got word on Christmas Eve that I’d been chosen one of the 12 finalists,” she said. “Maybe now all those years of paying my dues is finally paying off.”

While “paying her dues” down through the years, Valentine has had some solid Hawaii help. Nana Veary, mother of entertainer Emma Veary, gave Valentine her Hawaiian name, which means “highest point of heaven,” at her birth.

Singer Bert Sagum, of the Society of Seven, is her godfather.

“You might say the Society of Seven practically raised me,” Valentine said. “I grew up across the street from Bert. And down through the years when I needed advice on my career, he was always the first one I called.”

Valentine began hula lessons on Oahu when she was 4. When she began singing in public at 5, she wasn’t spectacular, she admits.

“I sang like any other 5-year-old. I was cute but I couldn’t carry a tune,” she said.

Her father remembers it differently.

“She’s going to be a singer; you just watch,” Sagum told him back then.

“She’s been around country all her life,” her father said.

Valentine first achieved recognition in the Southwest and Los Angeles, impersonating Patsy Cline with the touring group Legendary Superstars.

That’s quite an accomplishment for the little girl who couldn’t carry a tune, because Cline’s wide vocal range makes her songs hard to sing, her father said.

For the past year, Valentine has been breaking out of that mold to create her own style, which she calls a unique blend influenced by Cline, but also Bette Midler, Janis Joplin and others.

“I guess I’m just outside the norm. I’m definitely not typical country. But if you really want to get right down to it,” she says, “it’s just good country blues, blues, blues.”

The “Nashville Star” show will be aired from the BellSouth Acuff Theatre adjacent to the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.

During the competition, the finalists will live together in a fully wired Nashville house where cameras will record their day-in and day-out quest to become the next great country music sensation.

Nationally known country-western singer Clint Black will “mentor” the contestants through the tapings and will produce the album for the winner, who will be awarded a Sony Music Nashville recording contract.

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