By People Staff
Updated July 22, 2008 12:00 AM
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Credit: Matt Stroshane/ABC

Since the premiere of the sixth season of NBC’s Nashville Star, contestants have been competing with songs made famous by successful country artists.

But “singing other ‘s songs is a little bit like doing karaoke,” says Shawn Mayer, the dark-haired 21-year-old singer from May City, Iowa. Despite earning her highest marks so far from the panel of judges with Carrie Underwood‘s “Before He Cheats” last week, what she and her fellow four survivors were looking forward to was Monday’s show, when they got to perform original songs.

“We have all been so excited all week,” said Coffey, the tall Texan with a 5-year-old daughter. “It’s not as rewarding to do other ‘s songs as it is doing your own. And even though we’re putting our songs up there in front of three amazing songwriters, we are all excited about and confident. It’s not hard to be you.”

But frontrunner Melissa Lawson admitted to a bit of anxiety because when it comes to writing, she’s a newcomer. “I haven’t been doing this very long. I’ve always wanted to,” the mom of five says. “I’ve always felt like songwriting was in me, but when you’re working and taking care of five boys, there’s not much quiet time to focus on songwriting. Even though I miss my family, being here in the hotel has given me that time, that focus, to work on my songwriting. And I love it.”

As it turned out, Lawson had nothing to worry about. The judges loved her uplifting anthem of self-confidence, “Ready to Stand.” In fact, each of the five remaining contestants got positive feedback from the trio of judges — Jewel, John Rich and Jeffrey Steele — who strutted their stuff with a medley of their own songs Monday night.

Coffey, who says he misses his daughter Savannah and Little Debbie, his Dodge Ram 1500, sang about all things Texas in “Southern Man.” Fellow Texan Gabe Garcia‘s “Lost Weekend” celebrated a long-married couple’s romantic re-connection. Mayer dedicated her song “I’m Not Looking Back” to “the love of my life,” who she left behind in Iowa. And Ashlee Hewitt sang about too much “Mike’s Hard Lemonade” enjoyed in the back seat of a car with a handsome cowboy.

Sadly, it was Hewitt who got the boot at the end of the night. The wholesome, rosy-cheeked blonde smiled bravely through her tears as the judges tried to ease the disappointment by assuring her that despite not winning the competition, she has a bright future in country music.

“I have never won a competition in my life,” said John Rich. “And I entered plenty. I know this is hard and you are sad but you are 20-years-old, you have a load of talent and you are a real stylist. Your sound is uniquely you. You may not think so now, but Ashlee, you have the world by the tail.” — Kay West Matt Stroshane/ABC