“I say the words they want me to say, but I’m sure I don’t act too much,” jokes 60-year-old country superstar Trace Adkins in a signature growling baritone.
He’s chatting with the Tennessean during an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry for an exclusive premiere of “Monarch,” the Fox drama in which he plays country music patriarch Albie Roman.
The show premieres — a year after several delays — Sunday on Fox, immediately after the network’s NFL doubleheader, between 7 and 8 p.m. CT. More episodes are scheduled to air starting Tuesday, September 20 at 8 p.m. CT.
The show is the network’s first wholly owned drama series. It follows in the footsteps of ABC and CMT’s “Nashville,” which aired from 2012 to 2018.
Post-quarantine, country music is re-emerging as a staple of multiplatform American television. ABC continued its 18-year relationship with the Country Music Association via the “CMA Fest” three-hour compendium of main stage performances. Universal and NBC’s Peacock streaming platform offers Circle Country Lifestyle and Music Channel by Peacock, featuring country music, western movies and TV shows.
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Viacom, through CBS, Paramount+, etc., is also engaging in country music. Historically, since the 1970s, the film careers of iconic artists like Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and Tanya Tucker owe much to their feature film showings on the network.
Additionally, the much-lauded “Yellowstone” and “1883” shows brought Kevin Costner and married country musicians Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, respectively, to rising stardom.
As for Amazon’s emerging streaming content portal, 2023 will see Amazon Music once again air the Academy of Country Music Awards.
Fox doesn’t stop at “Monarch,” however. The network also partnered with the ACM to air a special presentation from the recent ACM Honors event at Ryman Auditorium.
“Monarch” tells the fictional story of the Roman family with coarse roots – think of the Carters and the Judds meeting the Williams and the Jennings. Among them, the king and queen of country music: Albie and Dottie Cantrell Roman (performed with sincere authenticity by Susan Sarandon), whose royal reign is threatened. Heirs to the throne include sisters Nicolette “Nicky” Roman (Anna Friel) and Gigi Roman (played in a breakout role by alt-punk icon Beth Ditto), as well as her recording industry executive brother Luke (Joshua Sasso). All are vying for control of the throne.
“Albie Roman is an honest guy who gets caught up in certain situations where he first has to do what he thinks is best for his family,” Adkins says of the character he plays in the lead role. “It might not always be honorable, and it’s not driven by meanness, but overall he’s a good guy.
“I love music,” Ditto says, sitting in a blue and white kimono, sporting a boldly reddish-orange tinted bob hairstyle while speaking with The Tennessean at 1 Hotel in downtown Nashville. Of course, that’s not what she wears when portraying Gigi, but it gives a hint of her whimsical nature, born from her roots in Searcy, Arkansas. The town of 25,000 is 50 miles northeast of Little Rock and has played an intrinsic role in his personal development.
The lead singer of indie rock band Gossip has been compared to Bobbie Gentry, Etta James, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner. She notes that the “trauma” associated with her Southern roots is most evident in her portrayal of the working mother who has concealed a golden voice and magnificent stage presence all her life.
“Gigi is an outcast and an unfed underdog, like me,” she adds. “My mother wasn’t like Susan Sarandon though. Susan is more like my grandmother, Barbie Ann. She was a redhead firecracker.”
Ditto notes small character points, like the fact that she’s a female character who never wears dresses or makeup and is “a working mom who wears an Apple Watch because she always has to be somewhere.”
“Every character on this show really feels connected to someone, and I love that,” Ditto says.
The performer also reveals that she was “completely unemployed” during the COVID-19 quarantines and considered taking online classes to pursue opening daycare. However, when presented with the idea of auditioning for the show – and they specifically wanted a “tall, fat lesbian country singer” – she was immediately intrigued. Similar to Adkins, the role would not require significant dramatic stretching.
Ditto’s roots in Arkansas included his father boiling squirrels’ heads and sucking the brains through their noses and his grandmother killing three squirrels with a single bullet. These ratings predated his confidence in his acting ability when pursuing the role.
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“All I said when I auditioned was, ‘Find someone better, I dare you.'”
Regarding Ditto’s cheeky condemnation, her TV dad Adkins laughs, “that’s a hoot, man, that girl is crazy.”
“I just heard ’90s country’ was a ‘thing’ two weeks ago,” Adkins jokes. “I wish someone had told me, I’ve been through this.”
The Academy of Country Music-winning singer fondly recalls starring in nearly two dozen low-budget movies over the past two decades and says the experience of playing Albie Roman flatters and honors his acting skills, his years of experience in the country music industry. and his time spent in front of the cameras.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but after watching the first six episodes, I feel pretty good about my performance,” he adds.
Expanding her acting credits to include romance scenes with Oscar winner Sarandon was “unnerving” to Adkins, mostly because the actress’ professional credibility automatically elevates her work.
“All you have to do is stand in his lake and hang on,” Adkins said. “When you realize Susan can carry the stage, you exhale and enjoy the thrill of the moment.”
Each of the artists who perform on the show has recorded about a dozen songs for the shows. Helping record the songs was Swedish-born Nashville resident Alex Anders, long known as vocal producer and engineer on another renowned Fox program, “Glee,” which aired from 2009 to 2015.
Anders worked alongside his brother, Adam, for “Monarch.” Additionally, the Belmont University graduate is recognized in country circles as the architect and director of Ricky Skaggs’ Skaggs Place studios, where he became a two-time Grammy-winning engineer.
The creator is proud of the show’s mix of old and new material. Quintessential country classics are mixed with country covers of current pop favorites and original songs on the soundtrack. Could you imagine hearing Adkins sing Ed Sheeran’s single “Photograph” in 2014? Tune in to Fox on Tuesday nights this fall.
Guest stars from the country music world, including Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Shania Twain and Tanya Tucker, are set to make appearances. Additionally, the show’s main theme, “The Card You Gamble”, was performed by Caitlyn Smith.
“I’m obsessed with (‘Monarch’),” said Smith, who performed the show’s theme alongside his ballad “High” at the Opry on the night of the exclusive premiere.
“Jumping into a ballad with so much drama, suspense and mystery was such a fun experience. And of course, the Love Junkies (the much-vaunted songwriting trio of Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose) wrote the song almost like its own character on the show.
“I’m a ’90s country girl at heart, so I’m constantly channeling those vibes every chance I get,” the singer says of her euphoric performance.
Ditto alludes to the wider spread of fan interest in the genre.
“In pop culture, there’s an idea of what country music is ‘supposed’ to be,” she says. “But like so many people, not all the country music I’ve ever liked would pass as country music right now. So for people like me, ‘Monarch’ bridges the gap.”