"Celebrity Apprentice" finalist Trace Adkins has an apprentice of his own.
In the market for a duet partner, Adkins picked out an unknown singer he saw at a junior-college fundraiser to join him for his appearances this week on "Today" and "Fox & Friends." He surprised 23-year-old Maureen Maltez with a copy of the song during a jazz dance class two weeks ago, and after a few quick rehearsals, the two boarded a plane Tuesday to New York.
"There were any number of seasoned professionals here in town that of course I could have gone with and they would have done a beautiful job," Adkins said. "But I saw her sing ... and I remembered her and I just thought, `I bet it would really mean something if she were to do it.' I know what I would have thought if I was (young) and somebody would have come in and said, `Hey, you want to go to New York City and sing on the "Today" show?'"
If his reaction was anything like Maltez's, he would have freaked out.
She remembers standing backstage following her performance at the fundraiser when a 6-foot-7 man she'd never met walked up. Maltez's college instructor runs a dance studio where Adkins' daughters take classes, but she had no idea of that connection four months ago.
"All he said was, `Hello, my name is Trace Adkins and you sing beautiful.' I wrote it down," Maltez said before a rehearsal Monday at Adkins' Brentwood home. "A friend of mine was beside me and he was like, `Oh, my gosh!' I could barely sleep that night."
She never expected to see him again, but two weeks ago he walked into her class at Columbia State Community College and handed her a CD with "Watch the World End," a song from his new album, "Love Will ...," that features Colbie Caillat. Caillat was unable to make it to New York with Adkins this week.
Adkins gave Maltez a night to rehearse the song and returned with his piano player the next day to see how they sounded together. Satisfied, he invited her to New York. Adkins' wife, Rhonda, took the Miami-born, Honduras-raised singer on a shopping trip for outfits and invited her into their home.
"What I really like is I didn't feel like a stranger around them," Maltez said.
The nerves were already apparent Monday, less than 48 hours before her appearance Wednesday on the "Today" show. She's never been to New York, sung in front of more than 1,000 people, or appeared on national television.
Adkins thinks she'll do just fine.
"I want this to be fun for her, something she remembers," he said. "As I was leaving (her school) a couple of the ladies came outside and caught me, and they had tears in their eyes and they were like, `You don't understand, this girl is so special.' I said, `You don't have to tell me about that.' I saw the aura when she walked out onstage. There's something about her. She has that thing. I saw it right off."