You Sexy Young Twang
WHY SHE'S HOT: Currently touring with Keith Urban. "There's a womanly soul-fulness that takes me back to Linda Ronstadt," says Urban. Elam calls the gritty country pop on her self-titled debut CD "bluegrass on acid," but admits, "The songs I like to write are either sappy songs or big-time tear-jerkers."
STAR SEARCH: As a 9-year-old in Bray, Okla., her life changed when she sang Dolly Parton's "White Limozeen" at a 4-H talent show. "I remember being really nervous and I also remember being up there thinking, 'This is cool. I like it.' " By 16, she had a songwriting deal in Nashville.
SEX SYMBOL SHE RESEMBLES: Jessica Simpson.
STATUS: Engaged to a guy she won't name who works in corporate insurance in Nashville.
DREAMING OF: Headlining her own tour someday and taking home a CMA trophy. "I have to get there. I've stood in the shower, practicing a speech into a shampoo bottle, so I would love to get one."
WHY HE'S HOT: His debut album, Man with a Memory, earned him three Grammy nominations and sealed his win as CMA's top new vocalist of 2003; now he's got two albums clogging the charts. "He's probably my favorite new artist out there," says Merle Haggard. "He's a younger version of myself."
SEX SYMBOL HE RESEMBLES: "Most often I hear Jim Morrison and a young Kris Kristofferson."
TRUE GRIT: The Rogers, Ark., native's traditional country style was inspired by his father, Mike, a mechanic and musician who saw his son's debut at the Opry in 2002 just before he died of pulmonary fibrosis at 46. "Dad told me, 'Son, I think that is my proudest moment.' "
STATUS: Single, but he has a daughter, Ashelyn, 6, by an ex-girlfriend. She realizes he's a star: "She does that every now and then—'You're Joe Nichols, aren't you?' I say, 'Yes, but call me Dad.' "
WHY HE'S HOT: A great honky-tonk sound, especially when paired with Shania Twain for the hit "Party for Two." "He has that deep voice that's so sexy," says Twain. "His body's not too bad either!" (He worked in a concrete factory and then a gym as a trainer before being discovered in 1998.)
LOVE SHACK: One goal for the Rincon, Ga., native is to build a fancy log cabin for his grandmother. "She's lived in the same little tiny trailer for 31 years."
WHY SHE'S HOT: Her hit "Break Down Here" from her self-titled debut CD earned her a CMA newcomer nomination she dreamed of as a kid in Lancaster, S.C.: "I'd tell my mother, 'One day I'm going to be part of that and I'm going to wear a purple dress.' " (She went—with Mom as her date—but wore an emerald Dolce & Gabbana.)
SEX SYMBOL SHE RESEMBLES: Faith Hill.
BIG BREAK: While working as an assistant for Mercury Records honcho Luke Lewis in 2003, she secretly made a demo. Lewis loved the demo by the unnamed singer—and, he says, "I was so shocked she was sitting outside my office." Says Roberts: "It was in God's plan."
WHY HE'S HOT: The soulful looks and the soulful ache in his hit heartbreak ballad "Stay Gone." "His is an amazing voice," says singer Patty Loveless.
SCHOOL OF BRUTAL KNOCKS: A former prison guard, he barely survived his boyhood in Kings Mountain, N.C. Raised around violence and drug use, he and his sister bounced from foster home to foster home. "I started writing when I was 12 as a therapeutic exercise."
BIG BREAK: When he was 13, a local couple offered to let him stay with them—as long as he went to church and cut his hair.
HIS KIND OF COUNTRY: "I'm not trying to make sure that every note is perfect. I'm going to leave all the tricks to Christina Aguilera."
Tom Gliatto. Beverly Keel in Nashville