By Eileen Finan
July 06, 2011 12:00 PM

Surrounded by half a dozen handsome men, Taylor Swift cracks a smile: “I don’t hate it,” she says of sitting amid the hunky crew. But good as the scenery may be, it was Swift’s ears, not her eyes, that first took notice of the guys she chose as openers for the U.S. leg of her Speak Now tour. Swift scoured artists’ Facebook and MySpace pages and picked up new-artist lists from record labels in search of promising opening acts. “I listened to groups, girls and guys, but it just so happened that the music I was really digging this year was all these boys,” Swift, 21, says of the nine male artists she eventually tapped. Each will open several dates on her tour, along with pop band NEEDTOBREATHE. “My fans and I are really alike in our musical tastes, so I went by gut feeling when I was choosing the acts. They’re all different from each other, which I like, but have songs about relationships and love that pulled me in. David Nail’s ‘Let it Rain’ and Randy Montana’s ‘1000 Faces’ immediately became songs I put on repeat.” As for the guys, she says, “I want them to have more fun on this tour than on any tour they’ll ever be on.”


AGE: 25

HOMETOWN: Grenada, Miss.

HIS SOUND: The former KingBilly guitar and banjo picker just launched his solo career. He doesn’t have a record deal yet but is working on an album. “I like to do with my songs as a male vocalist what Taylor does, writing about life and relationships.”

TOUR TAKEAWAY: “Taylor’s a pioneer, and there’s a lot to learn. I’ll be out front every night taking notes.”


AGE: 32

HOMETOWN: Kennett, Mo.

WHY YOU KNOW HIM: He’s already had a Top 10 with the soulful “Red Light” and has toured with Lady A.

ONE OF THE GUYS: “I’m one of the older ones on the tour, so I’m sure it’s comforting to Taylor’s dad that I’m a happily married man. He doesn’t have to worry about me!”

FIRST UP: “Hopefully the fans will be so excited to see Taylor, they’ll get there extra early. I want them to walk out saying, ‘That guy was really good.'”


AGE: 28

HOMETOWN: Battle Creek, Mich.

TOUR CRED: He’s opened for Bob Seger and on Michigan dates for Kenny Chesney.

ROAD WISDOM: “I want them to like my music, but you’re fooling yourself if you don’t realize the fans are there to see Taylor and you’re just standing in the way of that! My job is to get them fired up for her.”


AGE: 19

HOMETOWN: Breaux Bridge, La.

TEEN PRODIGY: A You Tube clip of him playing accordian at 4 had 11 million hits, and he wrote a cut for Rascal Flatts before he could vote.

ON TAYLOR’S RADAR: “I’m a Taylor fan, so the fact that she knows who I am is awesome. To be invited on the tour is unbelievable!”


AGE: 41

HOMETOWN: Perth, Australia

COMING TO AMERICA: Brand is a platinum-selling artist at home, but this is his first tour in North, America. “What a way to start!” he says, joking that he hopes Taylor’s fans understand his accent. “My stories of growing up in Australia are no different to growing up in the States.”


AGE: 25

HOMETOWN: Nashville

MUSIC ROOTS: His father is songwriter Billy Montana (“Suds in the Bucket” and Garth’s “More Than a Memory”). “I grew up next door to a stage.”

HIS SOUND: “I write story songs with a rocking edge. My music isn’t for one age group, so I think it’ll work with Taylor’s fans.”


AGE: 41

HOMETOWN: Mound Valley, Kans.

MUSIC MIX: “I’ve got a traditional sounding voice but a contemporary sound, so there’s a little bit of everything,” says Wesley, who toured with Josh Thompson last year. “I love doing classics like Marty Robbins and Elvis. I’ll throw that into the show.”

PROUD OF POP: “I’ve got a 7-year-old daughter who’s so excited by this-thanks, Taylor!”


AGE: 31

HOMETOWN: Milwaukee

IDOL EXPERIENCE: Gokey was the third-place finalist on American Idol in 2009 and is working on his second country album.

WHY HE FITS IN: “Taylor’s not in a box. Every radio station plays her, and she has hits in every format. I’m not the typical voice on country radio, so I identify with an artist like her.”


AGE: 31

HOMETOWN: Augusta, Ga.

WHY YOU KNOW HIM: The brother of Lady A’s Charles Kelley had pop hits (“Amazing” and “Only You”) before his debut country CD this year.

TOUR BONUS: “My daughter and wife [actress Katherine Heigl] are Taylor fans too, so this earned me brownie points.”


Taylor got her start opening for acts like GEORGE STRAIT and wanted to do the same for other up-and-comers. “BRAD PAISLEY taught me how to edit video, I watched KENNY CHESNEY with his fans, and FAITH and TIM welcomed me with a candle in my dressing room. You learn from that.”