Blake Shelton did it backwards. 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 crowd 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 never stops working.
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 said before singing a note.
Shelton was concerned that some of his oldies -- his career stretches back all of 11 years -- would make younger fans protest about hearing grandpa songs. "If you don't like it," Shelton promised, "I'll stop and we'll do some damn Justin Bieber."
To give some true "Voice" flavor, Shelton covered a few pop and rock oldies, namely Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," J. Geils Band's "Centerfold" and Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," with a pronounced twang.
Shelton's light-beer baritone sounded more impressive live than on the radio. When he sang with conviction, as he did on a cover of Rhett Akins' "Kiss My Country Ass" and his own I-messed-up ballad "She Wouldn't Be Gone," it was clear that he is a Country Voice to be reckoned with.
Opening was Sunny Sweeney, 35, a gum-chewing, beer-swilling Texan with a chirpy twang who sang mostly about cheatin' and drinkin.' Her honky-tonk songwriting was more impressive than her cheery singing. Moreover, her set stretched to a full hour; less would have been more for her.
For a full report on the concert, go to www.startribune.com.