NBC photo: John Russell
Charley Jenkins of Murray sings during an episode of "Nashville Star." The judges eliminated Jenkins from the show Monday night.

Just before they eliminated him from "Nashville Star" on Monday night, the show's judges criticized Utahn Charley Jenkins for going down into the audience when he performed.

The show's producers had told him they wanted him to do just that.

"That was beyond my control," Jenkins said Wednesday in a conference call with TV critics. "That was part of something that I was ... kind of asked to do."

Following Jenkins' elimination on Monday night, the judges themselves have been under fire. John Rich, Jewel and Jeffrey Steele were, in the opinion of many, excessively and unnecessarily cruel. And not just to Jenkins.

"I think that they were a little critical, especially for the first show," said Jenkins, who hesitated to be overly critical of the judges.

He wondered if Jewel and Rich felt "uncomfortable" because "it's something they don't think is necessary and maybe is more distracting on a great vocal than it is beneficial."

Jenkins also pointed out that because Rich will produce the album for the winner and write the first single, "he can really sway the competition and take it away from somebody he doesn't believe in."

And, by having two current artists — Rich and Jewel — on the panel "the dynamics of judging changes" because they will be "sharing shelf space" with whoever wins.

Whatever the reason, "I think the judges in 'Nashville Star' were more critical of us than I think you would get in 'American Idol,"' Jenkins said.

Which is ironic because Rich has been quoted criticizing the harshness of the "Idol" judges.

Jenkins also said he found "a big irony" in Rich (of Big and Rich) telling "Nashville Star" contestants it's a country, not pop, competition given the judge's "style of country music."

"Granted, he's written some great country songs and I'm not going to take that away from him," he said. "But it's hard for me — somebody who's a George Strait fan and straight-up pretty much loves that type of country music — to get lectured when somebody's got a rapper and a more of a gimmick — even a midget — in his band.

"I hate to say that. I don't want that to sound by any means bigoted. But what I'm saying is, it's a completely different style of country music than what I'm used to."

Jenkins wasn't in any way boastful or arrogant.

"I did feel that I should be in contention," he said. "I didn't think I would be in the bottom two."

He seemed more bewildered and hurt than angry. He said repeatedly that he was "extremely grateful for the opportunity," but unlike seemingly every other contestant eliminated from a similar show, Jenkins didn't gush about what the national TV exposure would do for his career.

"I just want to weather the storm and see what kind of reaction comes from this," he said.

Ironically, he was the only one of the 12 finalists who'll be eliminated by the judges. From here on out, it's all up to viewer voting.

If it had been up to viewers this week, "I felt like I could have been around for a little while. And ... I think it's a little easier if America decides versus three people's opinions or a network's opinion of you."

That wasn't the only time Jenkins obliquely referenced reports that there was pressure from above — from NBC executives, perhaps — to bounce him off the show in favor of other contestants.

"The reality of a show like this is, there's many different voices that pipe in and make the decision, even away from the judges," he said. "So, you never know exactly what the agenda is or what they see and what they don't see, and you just kind of have to roll with it."

He had to cancel some dates and put others on hold because of "Nashville Star."

"But as soon as I was eliminated, we got on the phone and started to recover as many of those shows as we possibly could," he said.

"I'm back in the saddle again. ... We have a pretty full summer of great shows lined up, mostly within the Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming region."

He's also going into the studio to record a new album — his fourth.

"I'm just out there playing as much music as I possibly can and trying to keep momentum that I had created prior to the show going and, hopefully, a little bit more with what's going on now."

But it sounds like there will have to be some healing, too.

"Not only did my wife feel terrible and she shed some tears, but cousins and friends and family felt that way. ... I was OK with it, other than having to break it to them," Jenkins said. "Breaking their hearts hurt me worse than anything."


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