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John Rich Blasts Nashville Star

03/25/2009 at 12:15 PM EDT

John Rich Blasts Nashville Star
John Rich
Frederick Breedon/NBC
Country star John Rich has lashed out at his former employer, telling the Tennessean that the NBC version of Nashville Star "completely bastardized what country music is about."

Rich was a judge on the network version of the American Idol-style show last summer, which was hosted by Billy Ray Cyrus.

"I wouldn't touch Nashville Star with a 40-foot pole," Rich says. "I thought this was really going to represent country music, put us on a new level."

The Big & Rich singer, who is promoting the release of his first solo album, Son of A Preacher Man, and his successful new single, "Shutting Detroit Down," does make an exception for two of the show’s contestants: Gabe Garcia and winner Melissa Lawson.

"Those two acts were the saving graces of that show," he says.

Rich, 35, has a reputation for being outspoken – he was an enthusiastic supporter of Republican Fred Thompson in last year's presidential race and later campaigned for John McCain. But of his personal life, including his wedding last December to longtime girlfriend Joan Bush, he's remained quieter. The real-life preacher's son, however, did tell the newspaper that his minister dad performed the hush-hush wedding ceremony at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

"We did it right on the spot where all the country greats stood," he says. "It was perfect."

He also hinted that the new family is considering expanding, saying: "We're working on some little country singers right now."

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