Discussion: Are Country Stars Born or Made?

steffi-grafIn a 1996 issue of Tennis Magazine, one of the publication’s chief editors wrote an article titled, “Are Champions Born or Made?.” He separates tennis stars from past and present eras in terms of their respective skills, arguing that some top-shelf racqueteers are born with certain physical gifts that propel them to success, while others rely on repetitive hard work and an inner motivation to compensate for natural talents they don’t possess.

In a way, the same question can be applied to country music stars of yesterday and today. I’d started to compile a list of who I believed to be the purest talents in the genre’s history, along with a slate of stars who climbed towards the top rungs of the ladder by pure blood, sweat and down-on-the-farm determination. Complex question, I know, and although the answers aren’t cut and dried, I’m sure it will stir up some neat (and respectful!) discussion.

A free cookie for the first commenter to name the court queen here in the picture.


  1. :D I thought it was Chris Evertt…But I think the cookie goes to you Jonathan.

    I think it’s a combination of hardwork and inherent talent. So Country stars are born AND made. OF course if helps if one is born in the great state of Kentucky or some other Appalachian state!

    Seriously, if one is nurtured in the culture of Country music, growing up listening the Opry etc…that has a way of infusing itself in the listener, and enhancing any natural talent they may have been born with. The rest is hard work and good fortune to be at the right place at the right time!

  2. Ah, Steffi was one of my favorites, and she was definitely born a champion IMO. A natural talent.

    As far as whether country stars are born or made … I’ll be honest, I think they’re born. When I think of all my favorite country stars, the ones I admire most, there is an inherent naturalness to what they are doing. They understand the music, appreciate the history and are generally appalled by the suggestion of a cookie cutter approach to music. I could probably put together lists as well. That’s not to say that there aren’t country stars out there who are made and who make good music, but it’s just not the same.

    Didn’t Patty Loveless have a quote on this Blake? Wait, nope. It was during Kevin’s Pam Tillis interview (See Interview link at top!). Pam Tillis: “Music Row always tries to manufacture the next big star, and you just can’t. It’s always gonna be the real thing, you know what I mean? You can’t make a star, you either are or you aren’t. And then it’s just like, “Get out of their way!”” Love it!

  3. I think some people are born with the potential to be stars – whether it reveals itself immediately or not – and most are not. But it takes hard work for anyone to actually cash in on their potential, yeah.

  4. I agree with Dan, I think some have what it takes and some don’t. People just have the natural talent, but I think once they hit Nashville they are made, more so now a days then say 15yrs+ ago.

    Okay so I am a huge Carrie fan, and I do think she has natural talent and she showed it on AI, but had she not went on the show, had she not of won, would she be where she is? Once they sent her to Nashville they created a star, she brought the voice, her appeal and the fans, but they capitalized on that and produced a superstar. The thing is she knows and respects all that is put into her career.

    She makes a great acceptance speech and quote well suited for this topic at the 1:30 to 2:10 mark:


  5. Born, made or manufactured…the first two are good and work in tandem, but manufactured is like artificial…the antithesis of natural..

    I vote for more talented, hard working artists, and fewer studio-created stars.

    And regarding natural born talents, whatever’s in the water of Appalachia, whatever pregnant and or nursing mothers have been drinking there, I think it’s working.. They should bottle that talent for sure! ;)

  6. Steffi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1999 Roland Garros final after defeating Martina Hingis in a match that turned in a weird way in the middle of the second set (Hingis crossed the net to challenge a call, got booed by the crowd, her game imploded).

    I may not be eligible for a cookie, but I’m always up for establishing my crazy cred.

    On your question, there’s a whole lot of compelling talent out there that doesn’t seem to catch because no marketing machine has been able to find a good narrative or hook. I don’t know that there are any stars out there now who aren’t made, in the sense that they are beneficiaries of smart market positioning. Some of them are pure talent met with good marketing, but the marketing mattered a lot.

  7. I think it’s a bit of both. Some are just born with star power, and others have the talent but have to learn how to use it, and show it off.

  8. Talent without exposure = some great front porch singers. MySpace is full of great talent but without the backing of a PR machine they will remain there.

    Talent is born but stars are made. There are various avenues to exposure nowadays and I think that is a great thing.

  9. I think country singers are born, but country stars are made. Thats why I think your not getting that same cream of the crop stock that country used to have is because slowly but surely the focus has shifted from the music. Now they are trying to create the Shania Twains, Tim McGraws, and Carrie Underwood’s they want them to have the look as well as the voice. I am sure there are some extremely talented vocalist and songwriters out there not given the chance, because they dont have the look.

  10. Both born and made. You have to be born with a natural talent, and desire to be an outgoing extroverted entertainer, and you probably have to be born with a basic “presence” or “aura.” But until that talent is discovered, and refined, nothing is going to happen. How many of us are superstars in our own shower? Thats where hthe making comes in.

  11. @Jonathan: Oreos or Chips Ahoy?

    @Lynn/Dudley: Steffi was born a champion, but for the least obvious of reasons. Her athletic ability was transcendent, but her actual tennis skills were remarkably idiosyncratic. The service toss was ridiculously high, her forehand was a homemade stroke that she struck mid-air and the slice backhand was a bit too defensive in her early days. No tennis player has ever had such supreme mental and physical faculties. Sorry to be a spoilsport, Dudley, but the photo was actually after the semifinal with Seles in that tournament. The Hingis final was a melodramatic (and absorbing) wreck.

    @Steve: Without making a conclusive list, I would say that certain artists were born to sing (Patty Loveless, of course, is among them. Off the top of my head, Patsy Cline, George Jones, Connie Smith, Trisha Yearwood, Randy Travis, along with many others.) Very few are born with this certain gift. The talents of other artists lie in their performing or songwriting. Faith Hill is not a phenomenal vocalist, for example, but she’s clearly developed into a stronger performer and taken voice lessons to play to her vocal strengths.

  12. I’m inclined to believe that stars, far from being either born or made, develop. They develop their talents over time through experience; and by a combination of talent, hard work, and luck, that’s where the stardom comes in.

    Linda Ronstadt, though not really a country artist in the strictest sense, is an example I like to cite of this belief. She already had a very great gift with her big voice when she began in 1967, developed her abilities through tons of touring, television, recordings, and such, and was lucky to work with some of the best musicians she could work with (four of whom became the Eagles). And through all of that, despite many arduous moments, it all came together at the end of 1974, when HEART LIKE A WHEEL made her a superstar, and a role model for many female country and roots-rock singers for decades to come.

  13. Great list Blake, I think I agree with all those examples. I would add Josh Turner to my list, with a voice like his, I think his career path was laid out before him like a golden road, as soon as he hit puberty! I think it is no accident that Josh lists Randy Travis as one of his major influences, they are like vocal brothers!

    I’d add Sara Evans and Emmylou Harris as well…and I realize too there are many others..

    Good point about some artists using vocal lessons to amplify their inherent vocal strengths, especially some who do not have the “gift” to the degree that some others have..I heard Martina McBride and Tim Mcgraw had the same vocal coach, although I think Martina could be considered an example of someone who was born with the gift, and nurtured it to the max with lessons, practice and hard work.

    But yeah, a lot of natural born singers would forgo formal vocal training.

    I read that Sara Evans went to college as a voice major, but only stayed 11 days…she didn’t like the operatic scales etc that she was being forced to learn, and her brother Matt encouraged her to quit saying “Sis, you don’t need this, you have one of the best voices in the world” So Sara fell back on her inherent gift and hard work. Sara had been singing Bluegrass and Country since she was four or five years old.

    And as great as she is, Patty Loveless has always stated that her late sister Dottie could sing circles around her…I guess that makes two in their family that were born with the gift…Dottie must have been amazing indeed.

    And as much as I’m not a fan of Carrie Underwood’s STYLE, I think her voice is incredible…Born to sing, for sure. Katrina Elam too.

    Erik, I like your example of Linda Ronstadt as well…nature and nurture for sure…nourished by a lot of hard work.

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