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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Neil Pond

Aired May 21, 2003 - 20:56   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: When you think country music, you probably think Nashville, but this year the Academy of Country Music rolled the dice and will honor the industry's best in Las Vegas. Joining us there for an inside look at the glitter, the glamour and possible winners, Neil Pond. He is editorial director of "Country Weekly" magazine, and he's on the Academy's board of directors. Neil, hello.
NEIL POND, COUNTRY WEEKLY: Good evening.

KAGAN: Do me a favor. As we have this discussion, don't mention any specific winners, because our friends on the West Coast might be watching, and people get upset if we let them -- if we ruin the surprise, if they plan on watching the show a little bit later on. OK? But we can still have plenty to talk about. First of all, let's talk about the Dixie Chicks. They were the huge story in country music this year.

POND: The Chicks were in the crosshairs of the biggest controversy that country music has seen in many, many years, when their lead singer, Natalie Maines, made an anti-Bush comment back in March that really sit things on fire back here in the United States.

KAGAN: But they're here tonight, right?

POND: The Chicks are not here tonight, but they're making a live appearance on the show via videotape from Austin, Texas, where they're performing. So they will be on television for the first time in America since all this controversy happened. So it will be not only the eyes of Texas on them tonight, but the eyes of the United States.

KAGAN: Absolutely. What about top male performers? Who are the hot names?

POND: You've got some strong horses running in this race. Alan Jackson is going to be a tough guy to beat. Toby Keith, a big contender this year. And the always, always formidable George Strait.

KAGAN: And real quickly, about 10 seconds left, top female?

POND: Top female is probably going to come down to a three-way between Martina McBride, Faith Hill and Shania Twain. Although you can't discount Terri Clark, who had the only number one song by a female this year.

KAGAN: And that was? POND: "I Just Want to Be Mad."

KAGAN: "I Just Want to Be Mad." I know that song. That's actually a very fun song. And some former American POWs will be there in the audience.

POND: Yes, they are going to be saluted in music by the band Lone Star, who are going to sing their song "I'm Already There," which is a very heart-wrenching ballad about separation and the closeness of emotional bonds. And they're going to dedicate that to the POWs.

KAGAN: And what about the controversy with artists, let's say, like Faith Hill and also the Dixie Chicks, who get a lot of heat within the country community for crossing over and going pop?

POND: There's always that argument. There always really has been in country music, whenever anyone has stepped outside the lines and gotten a little pop success. The fact is Faith is still very much embraced by country music. So are the Dixie Chicks. We'll find out tonight who the voters of these awards really want to give that honor to.

KAGAN: That we will. Just real quickly, why is the carpet orange there instead of red?

POND: Well, we've got an orange carpet tonight, because the Home Depot is sponsoring part of the show and indeed giving away an award, the Home Depot Humanitarian Award tonight.

KAGAN: There you go. I fell for a plug. What a way to end the hour. Neil Pond in Vegas. Have a fun evening with the awards.

POND: Thank you.

KAGAN: Thanks so much.

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