Reality TV exposure can be either a blessing or a curse for a new act. For Steel Magnolia, season-two winner of CMT's "Can You Duet?," that exposure has definitely been a blessing by way of a top five single ("Keep On Lovin' You") and an opening slot on Brad Paisley's 2010 tour.
Steel Magnolia reaped yet another blessing this week with its self-titled debut album on Big Machine. The set arrives at No. 3 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart and at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 28,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
A real-life couple who met at a Nashville karaoke bar, Steel Magnolia's Meghan Linsey and Joshua Scott Jones admit they were initially hesitant about appearing on "Can You Duet?" Linsey says, "There is such a stigma about people not being true artists when you come from reality TV shows."
"We were too hungry to have all that artist integrity," Jones adds with a laugh. "[It's hard] when you're heating your apartment with your oven."
Nevertheless, the duo came away pleased with the experience -- and the launching pad it provided. "If we didn't get to stay true to the music, we wouldn't have done it," Jones says. "It forced us to hustle our butts off to keep up the momentum we've got going from the show."
Video: Steel Magnolia, "Last Night Again"
Big Machine introduced the act -- crowned in August 2009 -- with an EP last year that spawned the top five country hit "Keep On Lovin' You" and its follow-up, "Just by Being You (Halo and Wings)." The duo is currently at No. 47 on Hot Country Songs with new single "Last Night Again." It's accompanied by a "Grease"-inspired video filmed in a Nashville bowling alley."
"Last Night Again" is one of seven songs the couple penned for its soulful country debut. Other album standouts include "Glass Houses" -- penned solely by Jones and a nod to Merle Haggard's influence -- and "Rainbow," which carries an island vibe. The album's outside collaborators include Keith Urban and Vernon Rust, who co-wrote "Homespun Love."
"It was cool to put a lot of our different influences on there -- old-school country and obviously some soul plus newer country pop sounds," Linsey says of the 12-track album produced by Dann Huff. "What ties the record together and makes it all work is the blend of our voices."
Hitting the ground running before a "Duet" winner was crowned, Big Machine teamed with CBS Radio to fly in contest winners for a show finale viewing party. The same week that Steel Magnolia was announced as the winner, Big Machine had the act visit CBS markets first because of the previous tie-in and also partnered with CMT Radio for a series of radio interview tours.
"All these efforts combined gave us a head start out of the gate," says John Zarling, senior director of new media and national promotion strategy at Big Machine. Landing an opening spot on Paisley's H2O tour last spring/summer also helped increase Steel Magnolia's visibility.
Originally slated for release last September, the album was promoted through advance sales on the duo's website, which offered a free download of "Keep On Lovin' You" with each purchase. Other presale packages offered a T-shirt, tote bag, lithograph and three acoustic downloads.
"By moving the full-length to January, there is less traffic," says Kelly Rich, VP of sales, marketing and interactive at Big Machine. "That allows for circulars and key placement at retail -- and more opportunity for a new artist to be in the spotlight."