June 10, 2008 12:00 AM

The sixth season of Nashville Star kicked off on NBC last night with Taylor Swift performing her song, “Picture to Burn” — but then it was the 12 finalists’ turn to impress.

Pearl Heart, a trio of sisters from St. Louis, started the night covering the Dixie Chicks’s “Wide Open Spaces.” The other finalists sang everything from George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” to Train’s “Drops of Jupiter.” But it was Melissa Lawson‘s performance of “Something to Talk About” that brought the judges to their feet. (Watch a clip at right.)

Country stars John Rich and Jewel and songwriter Jeffrey Steele are judging this season of Nashville Star, and they’re a far cry from American Idol‘s Randy, Simon and Paula. The only tense moment was when Jewel called Rich a “no singing son-of-a-gun.” Taking on hosting duties is Billy Ray Cyrus, who’s on break from the Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana. Cyrus had some father-to-father advice for single dad Coffey Anderson: “When your little girl tells you she wants to get into show business, don’t do it.” (Cyrus speaks from experience: His daughter Miley is the star of Hannah Montana; he’s just a supporting character.)

Former Miss St. Paul Alyson Gilbert and Utah singer Charley Jenkins were the bottom two this week. The judges eliminated Jenkins, saying his rendition of Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It” was too much like a karaoke singer in Vegas. But it’ll be up to the viewers who will stay and who will go starting with next next week’s episode. –Emmet Sullivan

Tell us: Is Melissa Lawson going to run away with the competition? Which contestant impressed you?John Russell/NBC

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