Many of the reality shows on television are testaments to the inflated egos of the participants. And there is possibly no more fertile ground for overblown egos than in the music industry. And yet, sometimes there is something else... This week's installment of "Opening Act" on E! Television not only presented an inspiring story of opportunity for a young artist, it presented a young artist, Kylie Morgan, that has been working hard to make a difference.
The show begins with Nigel Lythgoe and the "OA" crew (which includes country singer Martina McBride, R&B singer Jason Derulo, rocker Pete Wentz, vocal coach Nick Cooper, and producer/songwriter Antonina Armato) trying to decide on who they prefer to take on as ready to be molded into an opening act for country star Jason Aldean. Aldean, currently on his "My Kinda Party Tour," was in need of an act to precede his main opening act, Luke Bryan, in Birmingham, Alabama.
Aldean won the Academy of Country Music's Top New Male Vocalist award in 2005 and put together an impressive string of hits afterward, but it was his 2009 album Wide Open that launched him into country music superstardom. Three No. 1 songs and a No. 2 filtered into the My Kinda Partyalbum, which featured "Don't You Wanna Stay" with "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson. That song would go on to reach multi-platinum status, win numerous awards, and become Aldean's fifth No. 1 song on the country charts.
Aldean's connection to Nigel Lythgoe and "American Idol" not only includes his singing with Clarkson, but a tour with Season 5 finalist Kellie Pickler as his opener in 2007 and having Season 10 runner-up (and fellow Georgian) Lauren Alaina open for him earlier this year on the "My Kinda Party Tour."
The "OA" crew choose Kylie Morgan, a 16-year-old with amazing stage presence out of Newcastle, Oklahoma, for the job (although they had high praise for a promising 12-year-old as well). Show host Olivia Lee jumps a plane to the Sooner State and sets up with her camera crew at a small venue Kylie is playing. Kylie is very committed to an anti-bullying campaign and has founded her own organization, "What We Do Matters." Lee catches up to her during one of her bullying prevention shows at a small school. After singing, Kylie, who resembles a baby-faced Martina McBride, speaks against bullying and asks for questions from the crowd. When the microphone is passed to Olivia, she asks questions concerning Kylie's work, then tells her that she has an offer for her to open for Jason Aldean.
Kylie is stunned. When Olivia asks what she thinks, she says it's unbelievable. So to show her the legitimacy of the offer, Olivia directs everyone's attention to a large television behind Kylie, where Aldean suddenly appears. He says he's heard her music and likes her sound and would like for her to join him in Birmingham.
A quick trip home to pack and Kylie is in Los Angeles, meeting with part of the "OA" crew. Nigel tells her the last time he worked with a talented girl from Oklahoma, he worked with Carrie Underwood. (Among Nigel Lythgoe's many resume highlights is his stint as a producer for "American Idol"). Kylie sings an original composition called "Country Girl." Although Nigel and company like the song, they also want her to perform something more upbeat -- along with another of her self-penned "Phoebe," a song she wrote about the death of a 15-year-old girl named Phoebe Prince (whose suicide became headline news and also became a rallying cry for anti-bullying advocates) and which provides the centerpiece for her bullying prevention campaign.
She gets paired up with vocal coach Nick Cooper and, where Cooper literally had to help build a sense of self-confidence in the previous two unknowns on "Opening Act" (Arielle and TwentyForSeven), he found Kylie plenty confident but not connecting with her music. Although his worries seemed misplaced, Kylie later said that the few minutes with Cooper were among the most enlightening of her experience.
It is decided that Kylie should go to Nashville to prepare, so its off to the mecca of country music to meet and work with Dann Huff, a producer who has worked with Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, and Martina McBride. He was also selected as the Academy of Country Music's Producer of the Year in 2006 and 2009. He says he has the perfect song for her, and if she don't like it, "she's nuts."
Kylie loves "On The Radio," but she only has two days to learn the lyrics for the show. In a confessional, her confidence breaks and she openly sobs, admitting that although the experiences have been great, she would like to have someone she knows around for support. It is a vulnerable and unexpectedly personal moment from the poised teen.
Olivia drops her off at the Grand Ole Opry House the next day, telling her to walk around and "soak up" the atmosphere -- she has the place to herself. She walks in and onto the stage, stands in the spot where thousands of country artists have stood before her. Then Dierks Bentley walks in, surprising her. (We learned earlier that he's an idol and her dog is named after the country singer.) She hugs him, overwhelmed, and begin to cry.
He notes that her experiences have probably been somewhat tough on her and told her he knew some guys that could help. Her band walks out on the Grand Ole Opry stage. They are going to Alabama with her to perform at the Jason Aldean concert.
The surprises aren't over. Olivia takes her outside her hotel and a tour bus pulls up. It is painted with her likeness and her name in huge flowing script. Her mother, father, and sister step off to a round of hugs. Olivia informs her that she'll be riding it to Birmingham. Kylie notes that she and the band will be doing a lot of practicing as well.
On the day of the show, Kylie gets a makeover and, just before showtime, gets a tap on the shoulder from Luke Bryan, who tells her that he gets a bit anxious before shows as well. He wishes her luck and she's on.
She's well received by the Alabama crowd. There's a shot of her family while she sings "Phoebe" where her little sister is singing along.
Back in the dressing room, Olivia asks her how she's feeling when Jason Aldean steps through the door. Aldean congratulates her and compliments her music, wishing her luck in her career -- and he's out the door (to do his part of the show).
The thrill ride isn't over for Kylie, either. With her family gathered round, Olivia presents the young singer with a giant check for $10,000. Covergirl, which sponsors the show and its makeover segment, makes a donation in Kylie's name to Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center, a national organization instrumental in bullying awareness and prevention strategies based in Minneapolis.
Selflessness and the willingness to stand for something is often rewarded with unexpected opportunities. Kylie Morgan, who is now 17, was the recipient of such an opportunity on "Opening Act." Because like her "It Matters What We Do" campaign suggests, it really does matter what we do. That includes everything we do, from the negative to the positive. And sometimes what we do touches others in extraordinary ways, inspires, and provides something to build upon, something to hold back the negative.
Kylie Morgan has done that. She has also been given a platform not only for her cause but for her music as well. Judging by the impact she seems to have had on those she met on the show, Nigel Lythgoe might have just worked with another rising star out of Oklahoma.
"Opening Act" airs on E! Television network on Monday nights at 10:00 p.m. EST.
For more information on Kylie and "It Matters What We Do," go to KylieMorgan.com.
Watch Kylie Morgan's touching tribute to Phoebe Snow for "It Matters What We Do":
(photo credit: Larrygaffey, Creative Commons)