Real Country Recap: Hunter Hayes Joins the Fold as Guest Celebrity Judge

The USA Network’s new reality series, Real Country, switched things up and moved their first night of competition to Monday instead of Tuesday. With three new act’s challenged to sing country love songs, and special guest judge Hunter Hayes in the wings, we can see why they couldn’t wait to get things started.

As with previous episodes, the three acts, chosen by Jake Owen, Shania Twain, and Travis Tritt, would perform a song of their choice adhering to the theme and would then be scored on a scale of 1 to 5 stars by the in-studio audience. The two highest scores after the first round would then go on to compete in the final round with the celebrity guest judge also voting. The top score of that round wins $10,000, a performance slot at Stagecoach Music Festival, and a chance to come back and compete in the series finale.

First up was Jake’s pick, Frank Ray from Las Cruces, New Mexico. At his girlfriend’s urging, the former police officer quit his post of 10 years to pursue a career in music. He dedicated his performance of Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It” to that same girlfriend who is now his fiancée.

Following his high octane performance, Jake told Frank, “Tim McGraw and that song, he’s such a great performer, that’s what’s made him a great artist over the years. I was on tour with him for a while and I got to watch him every night. I tell you what, man, you’re there with Tim McGraw as far as performance goes.”

After the audience voted, Frank earned a score of 3.9 stars.

Shania’s pick was up next and the Canadian songbird brought 15-year-old Riley Thompson from Mabank, Texas to the Real Country stage. She told the young singer, “You’re not amazing because you’re young, you’re not amazing because you’re gorgeous, you’re amazing because you’re talented.”

Performing Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” the young woman earned rave reviews from the celebrities. “I thought your dynamics were just absolutely fantastic. You’ll go far, just keep going,” Travis told her. Jake added, “There’s something really special about you, Riley. You stood up there and you talked about your parents separated. I’ve gone through a divorce in my life. I have a little girl. And you said the reason you’re singing this song was because of love and hope. Hope is what music is all about.”

The audience awarded Riley 3.4 stars.

The final act was Travis’ pick. Porter Union, a duo from Springfield, Missouri, put their own flavor on the Dolly Parton/Ricky Van Shelton duet “Rockin’ Years.”

“That is exactly what we need to hear more of right now,” Travis told them. “That is just so plain and so simple, but it’s so damn good at the same time. And the harmonies, there’s something about that chemistry, awesome.” Jake told the couple, “With our format, what I think we miss sometimes are stylists. One stylist is one thing, two together is double trouble. And listening to both of you guys together, weave in and out of each other’s melodies and harmonies was a beautiful thing.”

With the other contestants joining them on stage, Porter Union learned that they scored a 4.4, advancing them to the final round.

Returning to the stage first was Jake’s pick of Frank Ray who delivered a dynamic rendition of Kane Brown’s “Heaven” for his final number.

Afterward, judge Hunter Hayes told him, “The one thing that I love about watching you is you’re bouncing around the stage and you make it look easy, which it’s not, so I’m kinda mad at you for it. But love and respect that. Your vocals were phenomenal, your performance was great, but the best thing is I just feel like you have unending potential in every way possible.”

Before his score was announced, Porter Union had their second performance of the night. The couple, who dazzled with their roots-driven first performance, returned with an intimate version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

“I was thinking how much I would love to just watch you guys do that for an hour-and-a-half,” Hunter told them after. “This is something so grounded, you’re so connected, I feel you. When you’re sitting there on those steps, I feel you 100-percent. So, that’s incredible. Your heart is in it.”

With both acts taking the stage, Hunter had some final words of wisdom. “There’s no better version of you than the unedited, unfiltered version of you,” he said. “For me, when I started in this genre, I thought I was supposed to be like everyone else, and I’m just not built that way. But I was meant to listen to all of them, take it in, and make it my own. You all bring something very important to the genre, so bring it.”

Porter Union earned 4.4 stars, however, Frank Ray squeaked past them with a 4.5 landing the spot at Stagecoach, $10,000, and a return for the finale.

Congratulations Frank, and well done Porter Union and Riley Thompson.

Keep up with everything Real Country by following along with our weekly recaps HERE!

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