A Little Bit of Country Music Goes a Long Way for Nontraditional Artists

Country music has given birth to some of the nation's best songs, artists and has helped give birth to rock-'n'-roll. And while some skeptics may believe the genre is limited to distraught love songs about tears in beers, emotionally disturbed girlfriends or patriotic propaganda, country music has proved it is and can be so much more than these stereotypes.

It has given rise to some of the best crossover artists and new perspectives from traditionally noncountry musicians. With the help of artists like Ray Charles, Faith Hill and the hip-hop man of the moment Lil' Wayne, the field has gained new fans and shown just how powerful and widespread its reach can be.

Check out some of the unexpected musicians who've dabbled in country music.

Darius Rucker

Surely few people believed that the frontman of the mid-'90s Hootie and the Blowfish could have a successful country music career. Yet Rucker has surprised critics and fans with his success as a country music star.

The 42-year-old singer, who first shot to pop star fame with songs like "Hold My Hand," "Only Want to Be With You" and "Time," now has the No. 9 album on Billboard's Country Music chart.

"Learn to Live" has reignited Rucker's once-stalled career and produced a No. 1 single in the genre, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It."

It's a long title that may lengthen Rucker's Nashville career.

Julianne Hough

Best known as the supersweet, supercute coach on "Dancing With the Stars" who twice helped stars take home the mirror-ball trophy, Julianne Hough decided to show the world she could two-step to more than just a ballroom beat.

After only three weeks, her holiday album sits in the No. 25 spot on the Billboard Country Music chart and is marked as a pacesetter. The 20-year-old released her debut album earlier this year, and it debuted at No. 3.

Hough joined superstar Brad Paisley's 2008 Tour, which also featured Jewel and Chuck Wicks. Her country music prowess has translated into commercial power as she appeared in a Juicy Fruit ad campaign.

Jessica Simpson

Hoping to revive a sagging musical career and break out from the dumb-but-beautiful-blond persona that the reality show "Newlyweds" helped solidify, Jessica Simpson decided to see if country music could bolster her musical credibility.

Her 2008 country release "Do You Know" gave the crooner the first No. 1 album of her career. The singer is set to tour with Rascal Flatts.

This may make up for her December 2006 miscue during a tribute to Dolly Patron when Simpson forgot the lyrics at the Kennedy Center Awards.

Lil' Wayne

Hip-hop's current lyrical king may be a far stretch from traditional country music performers, but that didn't stop Lil' Wayne from dropping by the CMA Awards for a performance with Kid Rock.

The pair performed Rock's "All Summer Long" just as they did at the MTV Video Music Awards last summer. The New Orleans rapper didn't spit any rhymes during the performance, but the dreadlocked performer did rock out on a guitar, proving his skills go beyond setting the mic ablaze.

Kid Rock

Kid Rock has never been shy about flirting with other music genres. He may have entered music on Detroit's hip-hop scene, but after gaining national attention, he became uber-successful marrying hip-hop and rock.

Then, he and singer Sheryl Crow released a huge pop country hit in 2001 called "Picture." Sure, it featured the common staples of cheating, beer, whiskey and some drug use, but, man, did it sound good.

It also laid the groundwork for his most recent album, "Rock N Roll Jesus," which clearly takes some cues from the country music community. Singles like "Roll On" show how much twang has influenced Kid Rock's music.

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash was a country music star with so many memorable songs and performances, it would take tons of print to list them all. But one of his most engaging songs and moments came not from a Cash original but rather a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song. The video for "Hurt" has become a sort of epitaph for Cash, whose deep, moody and pensive take on the single made it unforgettable. An aged Cash, whose poor health was apparent, singing about regrets and past mistakes was so moving it brought him an even younger generation of fans.

Watching "The Man in Black" sit solemnly in a chair strumming a guitar and softly belting out lyrics like "I hurt myself today to see if I still feel," gave a glimpse into the soul of a man whose lifetime was filled with difficult moments.

He turned rock into country. In the song he sings, "What have I become? My sweetest friend, everyone I know goes away in the end." But with performances like this one Cash ensured he and country music would never fade away. What did he become? An icon with a permanent place among Nashville's elite.

Ray Charles

Ray Charles may be remembered as a soul man, but his love for country was fierce. So much so that the musical genius recorded a country album.

"Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music" became a rapid success and pushed Charles further into the stratosphere. The 1962 album had songs like "Born to Lose" and "I Can't Stop Loving You."

The record's theme is often found in country music: one of heartache and love.

Pat Boone

Pat Boone switched to country music as his hit-making proficiency began to wane, thanks in part to the British invasion. But what really surprised fans was his making a heavy metal album.

"In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy" was a collection of covers and Boone's leather-clad appearance on the American Music Awards in 1997 shocked just about everyone but Boone himself.

Shania Twain

In the late '90s, country music and pop were synonymous, thanks to singers like Shania Twain who manufactured hit after hit. Need proof? You surely know at least one baby named Shania from that period.

The singer from the Great White North proved Canadians could croon country as well as Americans.

Her smash album "Come on Over," which featured songs like "You're Still the One," "From This Moment On" and "That Don't Impress Me Much" became top pop staples and some people probably didn't even realize they were jamming to country music. The other thing Shania did for country music was to make it sexy. The songer was known for teeny tiny tops and supershort shorts, looking more like a pop star than a country queen.

Faith Hill

Like Shania Twain, Faith Hill became a huge crossover sensation. The "Mississippi Girl" has the picture-perfect country music family, which she shares with superstar spouse Tim McGraw.

Her pop culture success began with "This Kiss" and continued with "Breathe" and "The Way You Love Me."