What can we expect from you as a guest judge?
I was fair. I wasn't too hard on anybody but hopefully I gave them some perspective and honest feedback and encouragement. It's not the easiest thing in the world for me to give criticism. Part of the culture that we live in now is that sometimes there is mean feedback for the sake of being rude or mean or trying to put somebody in their place. But when it's valid and helpful, I feel like I can manage. I know I personally always liked to get encouragement from people that I trust. I kind of surprised myself. I thought that I would be quiet and observe but I got to say what I wanted to say and be a part of the whole process. It was really fun.
If they had something like AGT when you were first starting out, would you have done it?
Probably! We had talent contests that I entered; they just weren't on national television. I don't think there is anything that can take the place of your 10,000 hours and really working and honing your craft in front of an audience and growing that way. I wouldn't trade that for everything but you can never say never. Who knows what would have happened to me if I had grown up in that environment. I think I would have done well on the show though because I was fearless back then. I moved to Nashville when I was about 23 and was singing since I was like 4 years old. The stage part of it, I would have been fearless. I don't think I could do it now. I wouldn't want to do it now (laughs).
What is your advice to up and coming talent, like the ones you encountered on AGT?
My advice is to do the work. Make sure you are prepared and believe in yourself and enjoy it. Because at the end of the day if you're not enjoying it, what's the point, right?
Are you working on any new music these days?
Yes. I'm finishing a Christmas album. It comes out for Christmas this year, probably in October.
What can you tell us about the album?
I haven't named it yet. I've been in the studio and I've tracked the whole thing and it's getting close to being finished. But I'm terrible at naming things. It takes me a really long time and I have to run it by everybody and get their ideas and their input. Naming an album is always the hardest part for me because it's going to be forever. You want it to be something that is going to represent the music.
This album is kind of a big band swing Christmas album, kind of a vintage-y throwback sound. It's very different than anything I've done before. I did a Christmas album a really long time ago but it was more orchestral, like a classic-sounding Dean Martin record. This is more pop and big band and has big hymns. It's really fun. I never thought I would record "Frosty The Snowman" but we did it in such a cool way that it's a lot of fun.
Can we expect a studio follow up to Reckless anytime soon?
Yeah! I'm just going over songs for that and starting to write for that now. It's kind of a vague idea in my head of what I want it to sound like. One of the most fun parts of the creative process for me is figuring out what I want to do next. It's exciting. It's pretty early in the process but I think I want to do more of an acoustic based record. That's just kind of where I'm thinking about in my head right now – lots of harmonies.
You've teamed up with so many artists over the years but who is left that you haven't collaborated with yet that you'd like to?
There are so many people! Bruno Mars would be fun. Harry Connick Jr. would be amazing. Those are just off the top of my head. I've been so fortunate that I've sang with so many great people like Bob Seger and Don Henley, Kid Rock, Jimmy Buffet... My duets have always been not so much country as much as other genres. So I'm always open to all of that.
You've been in the business for so long. What's different about your process now versus in your earlier days?
A lot is different actually. When you are in the commercial music industry and trying to keep that going and have hits on the radio, that's a much different mindset than where I am now, which is to just do whatever feels right. Not that that didn't feel right before -- I'm super proud of the songs that I recorded in my career -- but it's super different. It's a little more freeing. I don't have a record label right now, by choice. I have a catalogue of hits that I can always play on tour but I can also do whatever I feel moved to do. I can do whatever style of music I want. If I want to do like I said an acoustic based record or even a tour like that, I can try it. The possibilities are wide open. I don't have anybody telling me "I don't know. They might not play that on country radio."
So at this point in your career, you aren't as concerned about whether or not a song makes it on the radio?
That isn't as prevalent in my thinking as I record now. I mean if they want to play it, I'm not going to tell them they can't (laughs). It's just not what I'm aiming for anymore. And the way music is done now it's so different anyway. I feel like eventually we get to the point where we will just put out singles and kind of a constant stream of songs and really give our audience something new all the time, rather than waiting 3 years in between albums. I'm toying with that idea too. I think we're all trying to figure out the way this industry looks now.
Your new cookbook Martina's Kitchen Mix: My Recipe Playlist for Real Life comes out October 30th. What have you been cooking a lot of these days?
I love to cook for my family so we have everything from sausage and chicken gumbo to meatloaf to Italian, taco night, all of that kind of stuff. I got a smoker for Mother's Day and I'm learning how to use that. It's a grill and a smoker. I'm going to be using that a lot.
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC.