Six Degrees: Meet the Judges

Using six degrees of contact, our hopefuls have traveled thousands of miles to find Martina McBride.

Now, only three individuals stand in the way of our contestants and their common dream -- the judges.

Watch "Six Degrees of Martina McBride" on Monday, July 30th at 9 p.m. EDT

Miranda Lambert shares a similar experience to our "Six Degree" candidates, having risen to music stardom after reaching the finals on USA TV's "Nashville Star." With over 30 years experience touring as a musician and front man for the legendary group Asleep At the Wheel, Ray Benson has forgotten more about Country music than most people know. And with her column in the Tennessean newspaper and stories in publications including People magazine and USA Today, Beverly Keel has forged a reputation as one of music's bluntest and boldest critics.

Together, they will anoint the next Country music star.

Miranda Lambert

After breaking into the business as a contestant on the 2003 season of USA Network's "Nashville Star," singer and songwriter Miranda Lambert has already garnered multiple nominations and awards. As one of the show's finalists, Lambert was signed to Columbia Nashville and given significant artistic control over her first album, "Kerosene."

Using personal experiences as her main inspiration, Lambert wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on "Kerosene," which debuted at No. 1 on the country charts in 2005. The album went platinum, topped the country charts and was named one of the best albums of the year by Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

Lambert was nominated for two CMA Horizon Awards and AMC's top new female vocalist award (she won it in 2007), as well as a 2007 Grammy nod for best female country vocal performance. An extensive tour followed, with openings for artists like Keith Urban and George Strait.

Written on the road, Lambert's sophomore album, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," was released in 2007.

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Ray Benson

Ray Benson is the front man and only surviving founder of the Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, originally formed by Benson and two friends in 1969.

Over the years, Asleep at the Wheel released more than 20 albums and won a total of nine Grammy awards. One of the most long-lived touring bands in history, this constantly evolving group has had a grand total of more than 90 members. In 2003 the band began playing philharmonic concerts, backed by a full symphony orchestra.

One of Benson's latest projects, the acclaimed play "A Ride With Bob," has been performed for President Bush. Additionally, Benson is the founder of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, an organization that aims to support aging R&B artists from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s who have reaped little financial benefit from their music. Benson has also taken on the role of producer for Willie Nelson, Aaron Neville and Suzy Bogus.

In 2002, Benson released his first solo album, "Beyond Time," which was nominated for two Grammy awards.

Beverly Keel

Beverly Keel is the celebrity columnist for Nashville's Tennessean newspaper.

This established writer and columnist, a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, is now a professor in Middle Tennessee State University's Department of Recording Industry, teaching classes on entertainment journalism, music publicity and artist management.

As a freelance journalist, Keel's byline has appeared in numerous publications including People Magazine, USA Today, Rolling Stone Magazine, New York Magazine, Court and Rolling Additionally, Beverly has written for the country music publications Country Music Magazine, Country Weekly, New Country and Music Row Magazine.

She has won awards from both The Associated Press and the Association of American Newsweeklies. She's a board member of the nonprofit organization, Leadership Music, and a past governor of The Recording Academy.

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