Blake Shelton did it backward. Usually, TV networks turn to country singers to star in programs after they've become big stars. Think Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Barbara Mandrell and Reba McEntire.
But Shelton was a rising country star before NBC's "The Voice" catapulted him into a household name last year. He's had a nice run of seven consecutive No. 1 country singles and attracted a near full house of 12,712 Saturday night to the State Fair grandstand for his first headline appearance in the Twin Cities.
In concert, the 36-year-old Oklahoman was a lot like he is on TV -- a good ol' boy with a brain that works most of the time and a wit that works nonstop.
He hit the stage with typical Shelton attitude. "I'm having a bad hair day. And I've been drinking. So let's raise some hell," he declared before singing a note.
The basketball-tall hunk with the cute dimples, a three-day beard and too-much hair product was likably chatty, but, frankly, much of his patter seemed pretty pat. So did much of the 90-minute concert, which is not part of an actual tour but just an occasional thing he does on breaks from "The Voice" (now filming its third season).
But every TV star knows that special guests can make an episode. Or a concert. So midway into the third to the last song, the scorching rocker "Hillbilly Bone," country superstar Miranda Lambert, Shelton's wife, walked out in a short denim skirt, T-shirt and ball cap over her braids, and joined in -- and the crowd went late-night-Saturday-night wild. Eventually, after she'd sung a chorus or two, Shelton called out her name and they strutted down a stage runway singing together.
Afterward, with a foot-long grin on his face, the jokester ad libbed: "I've always wanted to sing a bone song with Miranda Lambert."
That was easily Shelton's best line of the night and also one of his best vocals. His beer-stained baritone sounded more impressive live than on the radio. When he sang with conviction, as he also did on Rhett Akins' "Kiss My Country Ass," his own sappily synth-drenched hit "God Gave Me You" and the I-messed-up lament "She Wouldn't Be Gone," it was clear that he is a Country Voice to be reckoned with.
To give his concert some true "Voice" flavor, Shelton covered a few pop and rock oldies, namely Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," the J. Geils Band's "Centerfold," Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" and Kenny Loggins' "Footloose" with a pronounced twang. He even dusted off a country oldie, "Ol' Red," which he remade in 2002 (George Jones and Kenny Rogers had previous hits with it).
Shelton expressed concerned that some of his older tunes -- his career stretches back all of 11 years -- would make younger fans protest about hearing grandpa's songs. "If you don't like it," Shelton promised, " I'll stop and we'll do some damn Justin Bieber."
The fans were elated that Lambert, not the Biebs' "Baby," was the night's big surprise.
Set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera
Twitter: @jonbream • 612-673-1719