As we all know by now, talent isn’t a virtue in the mainstream country music industry, it’s a burden. How malleable an artist happens to be is what attracts label executives, not necessarily their skills of singing or songwriting. With Auto-Tune and other studio treatments, you can make a star out of anyone. But the more an artist is willing to bend, the more likely they are to break, and cease to be who they were and what made them want to come to Nashville in the first place.
Mary Sarah is an unusual case when it comes to mainstream country prospects. On the surface, you have this gorgeous young woman with lots of styling, pizzazz, and stage presence, seasoned from performing since a very early age, like a pop country star ready to go out of the box. But what does she decide to do with her debut album? She releases a duets record with country legends like Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, Lynn Anderson, and Freddy Powers.
Bridges took country classics and created duets with Mary singing along with the legends that made the songs famous. It was a unique way to “bridge” the generations of country that was done with a respect for the genre’s lineage rarely seen from new performers today. Among all the other notable collaborations on the record, it included one of the very last recorded performances by country legend Ray Price.
Mary Sarah’s voice is stellar, and she’s perfect for putting on a pedestal and watching her shine in a mainstream world that demands perfection from their artists. But with such a talent glut in Nashville, and so few in the industry who know what to do with female stars, Mary Sarah has been unfairly overlooked, even as she continues to pursue her dream, and pursue it her way, including releasing a new album Dress Up This Town in 2015.
Much has been made of how NBC’s The Voice has struggled to launch legitimate music stars who can thrive in in the big scary world after the season is over. Remember Craig Wayne Boyd, the “true” country winner from a few season’s back? Have we heard from him lately? The last news was how he was being dropped by Big Machine Records. How about Meghan Linsey, who was a questionable pick a couple of seasons ago for a contestant, and finished as the runner up? Has her career been appreciably improved by her experience on the show? Or how about traditional country artist Jake Worthington? He put out a pretty good EP recently, but without the proper support of a label, he’s fighting for attention like everyone else, despite being able to boast how he was a runner up on the show.
The Voice is not interested in actually launching music artists. It’s not like DeVry or the University of Phoenix where after you complete your training, job placement is guaranteed. The Voice is simply interested in putting together a show that continues to deliver good ratings, which it does. The odds say that even if you win, you can slip right back into obscurity. The Carrie Underwood stories for reality TV singing winners are very few, and very far between these days.
But Mary Sarah, who auditioned Monday evening (2-29) for the latest season of The Voice and impressed all four judges, might be someone who can actually make something of this experience. “I’m a big fan of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline,” she said on the show, and mentioned specifically how hard it is for females to make it in country.
Mary Sarah has been sitting right on the cusp for the last few years, but has lacked that one big moment of oomph to put her over the top. Of course there’s always the wild card of if Mary Sarah does make it to the top, will she make it there with what brought her to Nashville still in tact, will she end up butting heads with the industry like Craig Wayne Boyd, or will she be allowed to shine, and help build a “bridge” between old and new?
First things first, Mary Sarah has to do well. But now she finally has her chance to shine on a national stage.