The country format has seen an influx in recent years of artists who gained fame for their acting work, then turned their attention to a music career. With one notable exception, they’ve largely found the doors at country radio closed tight, despite having already built up a fan base as actors.
While they may just be getting started in their attempt to break down those doors, the debut single from "Pretty Little Liars" star Lucy Hale fell off the Country Airplay chart on May 26 after 17 weeks, having never gotten out of the 50s, and the debut single from former "Zoey 101" star Jamie Lynn Spears has thus far only managed to scrape the bottom of the chart a couple of times.
Jennette McCurdy, the star of "iCarly" and "Sam & Cat," released two singles on Capitol Nashville in 2010 and 2011, and while country radio programmers eagerly brought out their young daughters to meet McCurdy on her radio tour, the singles peaked at Nos. 58 and 44, respectively. Christian Kane, a star of the TV series "Angel" and "Leverage," also released two singles in 2010 and 2011, which respectively peaked at Nos. 49 and 58.
Broadway/film/TV star Laura Bell Bundy, currently appearing on TV show "Anger Management", had three singles on two different labels between 2010 and 2013, all of which failed to move the needle at radio. And while the show’s soundtrack albums sell well, none of the singles released by cast members of ABC’s "Nashville" has been a radio hit, including Hayden Panettiere’s 2012 debut, “Telescope” and Chris Carmack’s 2013 single “What If I Was Willing.”
The one notable exception to the rule has been Jana Kramer, who starred in "One Tree Hill," "Entourage," "Friday Night Lights" and several other series. Her debut single, “Why Ya Wanna,” went top five in 2011 and helped earn her an Academy of Country Music Award in the New Female Artist category in 2013. Clearly Kramer has convinced country programmers that she’s serious about a career in country music, something PDs say has been the primary thing holding back the others.
“It’s all about commitment to our format,” says Westwood One vp programming John Paul. “Programmers want new acts that … will be around for a long time. Our format doesn’t have very many one-hit wonders; we are still artist-driven … The long term commitment to our format is very important to programmers [who] can pick up pretty fast if the artist isn’t 100 percent into country radio.”
WCTK Providence, R.I., PD Bob Walker agrees that what’s holding some of these artists back is that they’re perceived as “actors first, singers second, and the priority is always the TV show. They achieved their celebrity status based on acting, not necessarily singing.”
WQMX Akron, Ohio, PD Sue Wilson admits, “I have had my share of trepidation in giving one of these actors-turned-country singers a precious slot on a tight playlist because I am unsure of their real commitment to the music. When we add a song, we consider it an investment … And when you take that risk, you want to know that the artist and the label is invested. When these artists have a fabulous TV career and want to just dip their toes into the country scene, I’d rather play an artist who is devoted, who has been playing bars, writing songs and is first and foremost an artist.”
McCurdy isn’t exactly helping build a case for the authenticity of singing TV stars either. In this Nerdist podcast from February, she calls her stint as a country artist “a horrible phase of my life” and one she claims she embarked on because she was “bored” during the TV writers’ strike. Describing her radio tour and subsequent mall tour, McCurdy says she “hated every minute of it.” She also says “the whole thing was very contrived,” claiming she was coached to lie and say she grew up listening to country music. (Her rant against her Nashville experience starts at the 19-minute mark in the podcast.)