People Staff
July 01, 2008 12:00 AM

Since making the final cut more than a month ago for the sixth season of Nashville Star, the show’s contestants have been sequestered — minus phones and computers — in a secured wing of the massive Gaylord Opryland Resort Hotel in Nashville, prohibited from seeing or speaking with the proud families they left behind.

Monday’s episode, broadcast live from the Roy Acuff Theatre, was an away-from-home homecoming when the nine remaining acts were surprised by parents, grandparents, children, siblings, spouses and even a golden retriever, who were all brought to Nashville for teary reunions with their aspiring country music stars. Eight-year-old Noah Cyrus — Miley’s little sis — set the family-theme when she began the show with an enthusiastic intro of Nashville Star host, “My dad, Billy Ray Cyrus!”

The reunions, which took place at rehearsals during the week, were taped and played before each contestant’s performance. Particularly moving were Ashlee Hewitt‘s tearful embrace with her dad, who has been in Iraq; and the look on Navy man Tommy Stanley‘s face when he saw his family for the first time in more than a year. Stanley was also surprised by three of his shipmates from the U.S.S. Kittyhawk, who joined him on stage and received a standing ovation from the audience in appreciation of their service.

But the night was still about music, with mom-of-five Melissa Lawson getting the best marks for singing “This One’s For The Girls” by Martina McBride (watch video) and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” The two acts with the least number of votes — duo Laura & Sophie and Alyson Gilbert — performed last, and afterwards, it was Gilbert who was sent home, where she will resume her studies to become a veterinarian at University of Tennessee in Martin, Tenn.

Next week, two acts will be eliminated — one in the first five minutes of the program, the other at the conclusion of the show.

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