‘Nashville’ finale sets up groundbreaking storyline: An openly gay country music star


Layla (Audrey Peeples) and Will (Chris Carmack) in happier times. (Mark Levine/ABC)

Even for a primetime soap opera, the last minute of the “Nashville” second season finale felt a little obvious. Come on, as soon as Will Lexington (the deeply closeted country star) agreed to do a reality show with his wife Layla and the producers promised there would be no cameras in the bedroom…well, guess what secret was going to come out in the worst possible way?

Sure enough, unable to take the burden of living a double life, Will (played by Montgomery County native Chris Carmack) stumbled home at the end of the hour looking absolutely devastated. Things weren’t going his way. The reality show was suffocating; producers sensed something wasn’t quite right with the couple; and evil record label executive Jeff Fordham had just informed him his debut album might flop. Finally, Will couldn’t take it anymore — he grabbed Layla, pulled her into the bedroom, and said the words: “I’m gay.” He immediately dissolved into tears as a stunned Layla stood there, and then the camera panned up to show…oh, look at that, a secret hidden recording device. Guess Will’s secret is about to be revealed.

Scripted drama aside, the revelation will actually bring a groundbreaking story in pop culture to “Nashville’s” third season this fall: An openly gay country singer. The producers have a challenge simply because there’s no blueprint in real life. Yes, there are gay country musicians, but none that have the same career track as Will these days: A young, male, rising star opening for the biggest names in the genre (thereby deemed worthy by Music City royalty), with millions of dollars invested in his launch and poised to become a breakout sensation. That situation hasn’t happened before, so “Nashville” writers get the chance to go wherever they want with the story.

Keep in mind the “Nashville” world is set in one where, just last year, radio stations were extremely wary about playing Kacey Musgraves’s song “Follow Your Arrow,” which includes the lyrics: “Make lots of noise/kiss lots of boys/or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into.” (“This is not only pushing the envelope, it’s where the envelope gets mailed to,” one programming consultant told Billboard.)

Meanwhile, in a recent interview with the Post, Carmack talked about the difficulty of people in real life asking him questions as if he really knows how a country artist could come out of the closet without alienating a traditional country music audience.”That’s way beyond my scope of understanding,” he explained.

Previously, when Carmack was asked by Out Magazine if it would be possible to be an openly gay (and successful) country singer in today’s culture, he said he didn’t think so; at least, based on his own conversations with others who might know.

“People I’ve spoken to say that at a certain level it’d be career suicide for somebody to come out of the closet. That’s a terrible kind of fame. I don’t think executives would give Will the time of day,” Carmack said. “That’s a damn shame, but in country music there’s a stigma that’s insurmountable.”

“Nashville” has received criticism for turning into too much of a soap opera over the last two seasons, but people in the cutthroat industry have praised it for getting certain details about Music City completely accurate. (With the pedigree of writers, creators and actual Nashville musicians involved, that’s not surprising.) They have an amazing opportunity with this latest storyline, because there will be no one to tell them whether it’s right or wrong — which, of course, comes with its own creative risks as well.

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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Emily Yahr · May 14