My Kind of Country courts a new breed of country star [Apple TV+ recap]


Alisha Pais in ★★★
Ale Aguirre competes with musicians from all over the world in new Apple TV+ show My Kind of Country.
Photo: Apple TV+

TV+ ReviewNew Apple TV+ competition show My Kind of Country gives three celebrity judges a chance to train burgeoning country musicians in an attempt to turn them into superstars.

The talent is unconventional and the stakes are high in the show, which is executive produced by Reese Witherspoon and Kacey Musgraves (and underwritten by Apple Music). Nashville better get ready. (And judge Orville Peck better take that thing off his face.)

My Kind of Country recap: First half of season one

Season 1, episodes 1, 2 and 3: My Kind of Country has a novel enough setup for a music competition show (as heaven knows we didn’t need any more of those). Country musicians and producers Jimmie Allen, Mickey Guyton and Orville Peck (with an assist from Adam Blackstone) each pick four musicians to train up to compete to be a produced and cared for country star, each from a background as far away from the traditional country music backdrop as possible.

I like the idea of encouraging people from outside of the United States to take up country music, as it highlights something that’s always been true but rarely covered except as a novelty: Broadly speaking, we all have more in common than we pretend we do.

But more than that, music is actually a force for good — even after decades of it sliding into the crassest commercialism. In recent years, country music has fallen hardest on the sword of capitalism, becoming a pale imitation of its glory days.

A new kind of country music show

Now, before I sound like a snob: I love country music. I recorded a country album for fun a few years back. (Good luck finding it.) But I like classic country. The production methods, vocal performances and musicianship of the 1940s through to the early ’90s gave us some of the most distinct and beautiful American music in the book.

Since then? Slim pickings. Even the revisionist country artists don’t do it for me like I wish they would. Of course, the upside to country music having no rules, and largely being the province of hard-right jocks singing about their trucks and ex-wives (Drew Tarver and Carl Tart did my favorite parody of this style of music), is that there has never been a better time to blow it up.

So, My Kind of Country has its heart in the right place. Who has the best shot at pulling it off?

My Kind of Country contestants come from all over the world

Justin Serrao in "My Kind of Country," premiering March 24, 2023 on Apple TV+.
South African singer/guitarist Justin Serrao delivers straight-ahead country rock during his My Kind of Country showcase.
Photo: Apple TV+

Here are the performances competing for glory in My Kind of Country’s first season:

Dhruv Visvanath: Born in New Delhi, Dhruv moved around a lot and lost his father as a teenager. He plays an acoustic guitar very forcefully, and his voice is a little too pretty for me. (Big Kacey Musgraves fan, in case that needed to be enunciated in this context.) His mom doesn’t fully understand his dream, but she’s supportive of him — it’s very cute. Lovable fellow.

Ale Aguirre: Hailing from Mexico and in the United States for the first time (like a lot of her fellow contestants), Ale is a left-handed guitarist who listened to George Strait with her stepfather as a kid. The B-roll they shot of her in Chihuahua is pretty embarrassingly literal and stereotypical, but she acquits herself well all the same.

Justin Serrao: Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Justin is a bar-trained musician looking to play country for audiences who appreciate it. (Incidentally, there are more artists on My Kind of Country from South Africa than anywhere else, which makes you wonder why they all left if country music is so popular there.) Justin’s brand of country rock is exactly what’s popular in America, so he’s got a shot here — but boy is it not my cup of tea.

Camille Parke: She’s a Black woman from South Carolina who’s only too used to being discriminated against because she doesn’t want to be anyone’s version of herself. Playing Johnny Cash’s classic “Folsom Prison Blues” made her a pariah at auditions. Abandoned by her parents and raised by her loving grandparents, Camille possesses a tremendous singing voice — and a compelling story.

The Betsies: Made up of sisters Zel and Landi Degenaar, this banjo-and-acoustic-guitar duo found its well of venues and opportunities run dry at some in Cape Town, South Africa. The Betsies take off their shoes to perform and sing with lovely, dry voices. (They miss a trick here by not doing the Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt arrangement of “After the Gold Rush” if you ask me.)

Wandile: A Johannesburg-born former pro rugby player, Wandile mixes country with African folk and soul. It reminds me of a lot of great West African music, something between Mdou Moctar and Ali Farka Touré. Wandile wants to take country music supremacy from white people. I love this guy and hope he wins. However, I’m a little bummed he chose Grover Washington Jr.’s hit “Just the Two of Us” as his audition piece. It’s less interesting than his own music.

Although a lot of them come from South Africa

The Congo Cowboys in “My Kind of Country,” premiering Friday, March 24 on Apple TV+.
South African group The Congo Cowboys prove it’s still OK to wear a cowboy hat while playing country music.
Photo: Apple TV+

The Congo Cowboys: This trio consisting of Julio Sigauque, Chris Bakalanga and Simon Attwell hails from … wait for it … Cape Town. The group produces a kind of fusion between American country and South African folk. Julio was born in Mozambique and has a beautiful perspective on the sound of the banjo and country’s roots in African music. Their rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is good fun.

Ashlie Amber: A Las Vegas-feted cruise ship veteran whose father nurtured her talent until his death when she was 11, Ashlie sports an impressively tall head of hair and a take-no-guff attitude. Her Madonna cover doesn’t sound much like country, but then nothing on this show is exactly country. So we’ll have to give her a pass.

Chuck Adams: – Born in New York, Chuck went to Nashville and left behind R&B music eight years ago to make it. Now he’s getting close. Elvis was his introduction to country, and Chuck worries that being a Black man with braids and tattoos gives people the wrong idea about him. He lost his record deal without so much as a phone call, and became borderline suicidal for most of 2011, so he truly was starting over. With a great voice and a good head for arrangement, Chuck acquits himself very nicely even if, once more, his Harry Styles cover doesn’t sound much like country.

Alisha Pais: From Bombay to Goa to Nashville, Alisha also learned about country from her dad. She has a very resilient, uncommon kind of a voice that’s got a little ’90s American folk/rock to it. There’s a lot of power under her smoky vocals. She would be a great choice.

Micaela Kleinsmith: Also from Cape Town, Micaela loved watching American Idol when she was younger. She fought a lot of self-confidence issues and playground bullying, and still has a hefty dose of imposter syndrome. She’s got a singing voice that’s gritty and pretty and, holds and rolls a note exquisitely. She’s a great presence — I like her a lot.

Ismay Hellman: A Petaluma, California, native and a legacy kid, Ismay’s family set up bluegrass festivals and created a space for them. A non-binary country star in the making with a great classic country voice. Ismay rides horses, lives a real country lifestyle, and seems pretty damned legit.

Are you sure Hank done it this way?

Orville Peck, Ismay, Micaela Kleinsmith, Alisha Pais and The Congo Cowboys in “My Kind of Country,” premiering Friday, March 24 on Apple TV+.
One of three judges on the show, Orville Peck (far left) wears a cowboy hat … and a ridiculous mask.
Photo: Apple TV+

Mostly My Kind of Country seems like harmless fun. But my usual caveats remain: The show’s camera crews and editors hand in very ordinary work. Nothing here will surprise you visually, and that’s a shame.

Even worse, the producers seem to employ the dreaded Auto-Tune on all the contestants’ vocals. What is the point of a music competition show if you can’t hear the actual, unvarnished singing?!?


Watch My Kind of Country on Apple TV+

The first half of My Kind of Country season one premiered Friday on Apple TV+. The second half of the season arrives next week.

Rated: TV-14

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 30 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at


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