After being a part of a Grammy Award winning duo with millions of albums sold, what more could you want? It’s certainly the mindset of a certain set of country music artists who can get territorial with their stars. It was one thing when Nettles, 48, embarked on solo projects more than a decade after taking Nashville by storm with his Sugarland duet partner Christian Bush. It was a different story when Nettles decided he wanted to try acting. And Broadway. And reality TV.
“Okay, I’m going to branch out here, I’m going to go there, it’s harder every time I think I’m going to do it here. Some people still say, “Half the country is the Sugarland duo!” Nettles said, imitating a deep broadcaster’s voice. “And I was like, ‘I like this. But, guys, I’ve done a lot of other things.'”
In a perfect world, Nettle’s dream career would be a combination of on-camera work and live theater and music, or, as she puts it, “if Barbra Streisand and Lin-Manuel. [Miranda] and Linda Ronstadt became a couple and had a baby—that’s the kind of career I want.” As of this week, that mix includes a gig as the host of Fox’s new reality show Farmer Wants A Wife. The first time his agents gave him the chance, he immediately said no. He felt that many influencers were trying to create scandalous moments to extend their 15 minutes of fame.
But then Nettles saw the Australian version (the show aired in more than 30 countries, including the United States in 2008 on the CW) and found the premise of pairing “big-city” women with small-town farmers to date. The struggle is more real than he expected. Nettle, who was born and raised in rural southern Georgia and now lives in New York, liked the idea of being the “facilitator” of this potential love story. (Fox says the show has led to 180 marriages and 410 children worldwide.) Mostly, it was just fun.
“We’ve done a rodeo, we’ve done a demolition derby, we’ve done a barn dance,” Nettles said, outlining the activities the contestants take part in while searching for love. “To be a part of something that’s happening in someone else’s story, in real time, I think that’s what we’re all looking for when we watch these shows. … We really try to see ourselves in other people and to see ourselves. I think it’s really rewarding to be part of a different kind of conversation.”
So, no, maybe Nettles didn’t expect that one day he’d be hosting the show when his band got their big break nearly two decades ago with the hit “Baby Girl” and a Grammy nomination for best new artist. To the palace full of women: “Who is ready to submit to the farmer?!” But he likes that his career has taken him to unexpected places, even if people see him reflexively and think “Sugar Land.”
“People remember you from the first place they saw you. … They seem to remember you where they remember you and sometimes they want to keep you here,” Nettles said. “But I apologize. I can’t stand still.”
In 2015, director Stephen Herek (“Bill & Ted’s Adventure,” “The Mighty Ducks”) was nervous when he first saw Nettles’ audition tape for NBC’s “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors,” based on Parton’s childhood in Tennessee. . It looked like someone had trained him to act like he was in a Broadway play, which wasn’t ideal for a made-for-TV movie.
An executive strongly suggested that the production hire Nettle – it would be good for advertising, so even though she had little acting experience, Herek invited her to meet in person. And he was shocked.
“She was amazing — she was like an expert,” Herek said, adding that Nettles, who played young Dolly’s mother, immediately bought into her opinion. He encouraged her to devote herself as much as possible to the role. “He was a natural … he could pick things up quickly.”
Nettles remembers his natural inclination to play cheap seats, as he spent years in community theater and drama club as well as touring arenas as a teenager. She parlayed her love of musical theater into a limited engagement on Broadway as Roxie Hart in Chicago in 2014, and returned to the stage in 2021, briefly taking on the lead role of Sara Bareilles in Waitress, which she calls a “dream.” level items”.
As she honed her acting skills while appearing on shows like WGN’s “Underground” and the Harriet Tubman biopic “Harriet,” Nettles caught the attention of Danny McBride, creator of HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones,” a televangelist program. She and her producers were looking for someone with a strong moral compass to play the late matriarch in the flashback scenes. When her casting director showed them the nettle tape, McBride says, she was instantly sold.
“There was something about him – something close and approachable, warm and caring,” McBride said. “It immediately saddened you to think that he wouldn’t be around anymore.”
Her instincts were proven with Nettles’ rendition of “Misbehavin’,” one of those made-for-TV songs you can’t believe wasn’t a hit in real life. Nettles, wearing a curly wig and glasses, rocked the fun tune with Walton Goggins, and the look went viral. McBride also marveled that even though Nettles is new to acting, she can go toe-to-toe with veterans like Goggins and John Goodman as they throw improvisational lines at them.
It gives off a “corporeal warmth,” McBride said. “He found a way to translate that into music and performances, which makes him work as a singer and actor.”
Nettle knows how rare his trajectory is, especially in country music, where successful artists don’t stray too far from the industry that made them famous — though there are a few notable exceptions.
“Dolly, Reba…me? I am passionate about it,” he joked.
But as passionate as Nettle is, she’s still a hugely influential figure in country music, a genre that doesn’t have much of a reputation for promoting contemporary female artists. Despite Sugarland’s huge success in the early 2000s, when Nettles went solo a decade later, her radio singles stalled on the charts like many other women in the genre.
While many artists have called out country radio for its gender imbalance in recent years (studies show that only 10-15 percent of songs on country radio are by women), Nettles made a big splash when she performed at the 2019 Country Music Association Awards. A red carpet with a dramatic cape that read “PLAY OUR F*@#!N RECORDS” in bold letters.
As Nettles observed, he said he didn’t see the situation improving: “Unfortunately, I don’t see the numbers changing with any significance, with any impact.” But that image stuck with most of the country’s music industry.
“Who else would do that but Jennifer Nettles?” said Leslie Frahm, CMT’s senior vice president of music strategy. “I know artists have quietly gone to him for advice. … He really helped open doors for a lot of other artists,” Fram said. CMT presented Nettles with its first 2020 Equal Play Award for promoting women in country music. The network also wanted to honor someone who championed minority voices, Frahm said, noting Nettles’ outspoken support for artists of color and the LGBTQ community in a white, heteronormative genre. “We felt he was a natural choice.”
While fans have always been curious about Sugarland’s status, Nettles said he and bandmate Bush started working together organically, and they’re currently focused on their careers organically. Nettles was excited to announce last week that she’s starring in the upcoming reboot of The Exorcist, and right now she’s hoping people really like Farmer Wants a Wife, a show she promises is more realistic than similar dating shows, especially with the contestants.
“Their hearts are in the right causes. They’re curious, they’re open, they want adventure, they want something new, and they want to ask the hard questions, you know, “What are you willing to do for love?” What are you willing to risk? Do you want to change your life?’” Nettles said.
The last thing Nettles can relate to is that she notes that some of Sugarland’s songs are about reinvention and changing a woman’s life in one way or another, which brings a neat, full-circle moment to the way she explores everything. .
“These messages are all expansion, growth and change, albeit in different contexts,” he said. “This is what I’m doing with my life.”