After the dust has settled from the vicious arguments and competitive fundraising, “The Celebrity Apprentice” 2011 has named country singer/songwriter John Rich the winner. (Second place went to Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin.) The show, which is executive produced and hosted by Donald Trump (who chooses the winner), features celebrities competing for their selected charities. Rich was named the winner in a live season finale on May 22, 2011. After the finale, the stars headed over to the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York City for the after-party. I had a chance to briefly interview several of the stars at the after-party. Here is what this “Celebrity Apprentice” star said.
How did you maintain your focus with so much craziness happening around you?
Well, if you’ve ever been to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, you’ll never get over it. The kids you see there, the parents … it just floors you. And so when you’re playing for a charity like that, and you encounter craziness or drama or whatever, you understand that the [arguing] is not what you’re there to do. This [winning] check in my pocket for a quarter of a million dollars now puts my total earnings for St. Jude’s over $1.3 million. It’s unbelievable. I cannot wait to go to that hospital and deliver that last piece of money.
I have a 15-month-old son, and when you go to St. Jude, you see 15-month-old kids, who are walking around and fighting cancer. And the whole place runs on donations. And when you have celebrity like I have, thanks to the country music fan base, I have millions of people who know me. And I knew I could raise a lot of money.
That’s what keeps you focused. You don’t engage in craziness. You try to diffuse the drama and go the distance. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. This is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, maybe the toughest. It was mentally fatiguing. It was about staying the course.
Bret Michaels, who performs country music as a solo artist outside of Poison, was the winner of “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010. Trace Adkins came in second place on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2008. What is about country-music artists that makes them do so well on this show?
I think country music is different from other genres, in the fact that we engage our public and our fans. We’re one-on-one with them. We’re not untouchable. We’ll go out in the crowd and hang out with them. I’ll walk in and buy the bar a beer. I’ll get up on stage and play with the band.
I think people skills help in “The Celebrity Apprentice,” knowing how to communicate with people. Country songs have simple lyrics with great, big messages. That’s one thing I try to bring to the table every time. I tried to learn what I used in country music to put forth a very simple message.
What’s more important to you: winning “The Celebrity Apprentice” or creating more awareness for St. Jude’s Hospital, the charity you were competing for on the show?
The awareness. I didn’t think in a million years that I would beat Marlee Matlin. She’s an incredible person, a fierce competitor. I don’t think she lost. I think we both won. She raised over $1 million for her charity [in one day]. I couldn’t do that. I’m really proud of her. It was an honor to compete with her.
Did you come up with the impromptu songs all by yourself?
Yes, I made them up. I’ve written almost 2,000 songs in my career so far. I would like to be known as a songwriter at the end of the day. I do a lot of things, but to me, if you don’t have that song, that idea, then you don’t have anything else. That blank sheet of paper is the most challenging thing you can ever look at.
I love writing songs. I loved writing that song about Trump: “Don’t Fire Me.” I think even he was susceptible to a country song.
Have you heard about how your appearance on “The Celebrity Apprentice” has affected awareness for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital?
I can tell you that the CEO of St. Jude’s [fundraising division, ALSAC], Mr. [Richard] Shadyac [Jr.] was here today, and he said [donations] were going through the roof. People are becoming what they call Partners in Hope. You go to StJude.org, and people are signing up to [donate] $10 a month, $20 a month — tens of thousands of people. So it is a tidal wave of momentum going through St. Jude right now.
Besides sending in donations by mail and online, how else can people contribute money to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital?
The song we performed tonight, “For the Kids,” is up on iTunes. It’s $1.29. If you download it, 100 percent of that $1.29 goes straight to St. Jude’s. And that’s going to continue going. So I would encourage everybody to go to iTunes and download that song.
As an artist who’s done some pretty big live performances, how does “The Celebrity Apprentice” rank, in terms of nerve-wracking experiences?
I’ve performed on some of the biggest shows out there, and because [“The Celebrity Apprentice”] was for a charity and there was so much money on the line and there was so much awareness, you really, really wanted to win it. It’s not like an award for a song or something. This was a thousand times bigger than that, because it was for a charity. I know Marlee felt the same way.
For more info: “The Celebrity Apprentice” website
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