Becoming famous has made Nick Brownell poor.
The Sandusky man and a friend, Jeremiah Richey of Waxahachie, Texas, are one of five duos left on CMT's Can You Duet after they survived elimination on last night's episode. The reality series airs at 8 p.m. Fridays and awards a recording contract from Sony BMG Nashville to the winner. It was filmed in February and March, and for six weeks, the contestants were put up in the Gaylord Opryland hotel, about 20 miles from downtown Nashville.
"At first it was really cool. But we got something like $40 per diem, and it was $30 to eat anywhere in the hotel. I'm really broke right now because of that show," Brownell, 23, says, chuckling.
This is Brownell's second stint on a musical reality show. He appeared on The One: Making of a Music Star in 2006. That's where he met Richey, who asked the blues and rock-inspired singer to audition with him for Can You Duet.
"I've always played in cover bands, and maybe did one or two country tunes," Brownell says. "I really wasn't expecting to go far. Jeremiah has this twang in his voice. I was just expecting to sing backup."
When they arrived in Nashville, they were greeted with the sight of thousands of people lined up outside on a frigid January day.
"They take about 10 groups at a time and give you about 10 seconds to sing a song," he says. "It was 7 in the morning, and I can't sing in the morning. I blow it. My voice cracks, but they said, 'We like your look, so we're going to put you through anyway.'"
After warming up and practicing a couple of songs for four hours, they performed again and took personality interviews, then went home to wait for a call-back. Two weeks later, they were invited to join about 50 other duos as the show began taping.
Even though the show finished shooting two months ago, Brownell's not allowed to say how he did, but on the first show, judge Brett Manning called them the group to beat. That's a pretty quick career jump for a guy who wasn't planning to make a living playing music.
"To be honest, I think I was singing since I was in the womb, but I really didn't think I'd be doing this. I did a high school talent show when I was a junior [at Sandusky Perkins]. After the crowd's reaction, I knew this was what I was going to do."
He started playing in bars in high school, then played with bands in Columbus and even moved out to Los Angeles for about a year. His recording career is on hold until the show finishes airing, so he's playing shows in Columbus and Sandusky, one of which is June 21 at Sandusky's Cabana Jacks.
Next week, he and the rest of the contestants will be in Nashville to sign autographs and meet fans during the CMA Music Fest.
Brownell chuckles when talking about his metamorphosis from a rock singer to a budding country star.
"When I get into the car now, I turn on country," he says. "I'm trying to write more country-style music. New country is kind of rock and roll - with a fiddle. I'm starting to get into it."
Brian Dugger's country column runs the last Saturday of the month.
Contact Brian Dugger at:firstname.lastname@example.org.