Country showdown

Suzanne Harper, bumped in San Diego, is celebrated in Nashville.
  • Suzanne Harper, bumped in San Diego, is celebrated in Nashville.

“I pretty much hated you guys for about 24 hours.” Suzanne Harper recalls how she felt about the judging after losing the grand prize on the FOX talent show Three Minutes to Stardom. I served as a judge on that show, along with Star 94.1 morning personality Delana Bennett and Ashlee from the morning show at Rock 105.3. “You totally got it wrong,” Harper tells me by phone from her home in Escondido. “When the votes came in, I wanted to argue and fight back. Most of my fans were angrier than I was. But for me, losing kind of lit a fire. I said, ‘Let’s show them they voted for the wrong person.’”

After the 3MTS snub, the 31-year-old mother of two won Female Entertainer of the Year at the North American Country Music Association awards. “It was actually, like, a week later. We wrapped that show in what, March? And then I went to Nashville. I didn’t stay bummed too long.”

Three Minutes to Stardom was a 26-week-long televised singing contest filmed at the Valley View Casino in Valley Center that began in September of 2012. The show concluded with a talent showdown in March. Stacey Antonel, a member of the Coronado-based Velvet Café Band, was the judge’s pick to win. She left with $10,000 in cash and a future meeting with a Hollywood record producer.

Now, Harper is a finalist in the Texaco Country Showdown, billed as the longest-running country-music talent search in America. At stake is a cash prize in the six figures and the title of Best New Act in Country Music. “It’s a who’s who of country musicians that have gone through that contest.” Harper rattles off names like Martina McBride, Garth Brooks, and Brad Paisley. “I’m, like, Wow, I’ve made it farther in this competition than some of those people did.”

On the home front, Harper says she and her band have played “more awesome venues than I ever thought possible.” She mentions recent gigs at the Belly Up and a re-enactment of the Band’s final concert, The Last Waltz, at the Poway Center for Performing Arts with a cast of locals assembled by the duo Berkley Hart. “Marc Ford was there, too.” Ford, who now lives in San Diego, once played guitar in the Black Crowes. “He was super cool. He hung out with me backstage, and he gave me a lot of encouragement.”

Harper and her band will travel back to Nashville for the finals, to be held on January 16. “There’s only five people left in the competition...$100,000,” she says, “and a whole lot of music-industry connections. You could cut a pretty decent record with that kind of money.”

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