A tune by sausage mogul Jimmy Dean emerged today as one of eight finalists to become Virginia's new state song, a competition that has inspired soaring lyrics, soulful melodies and hurt feelings.

All were on display today as a panel of lawmakers and citizens pared the list from 20 contenders to eight. Just a few months ago, the number was more than 360, totaling in excess of 17 hours of listening time.

Virginia has been searching for a new state song since 1990, when then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D), the nation's first elected black governor, announced that he considered the state song "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia" to be racist. It includes references to "massas" and "darkies."

Before picking a successor tune in December, the selection committee hopes to solicit opinions from throughout the state. One member, Del. James K. O'Brien Jr. (R-Fairfax), said he will contact every Fairfax County school and cast his vote for whatever schoolchildren dubbed the most popular tune. Seven of the finalists can be heard on the Web at www.washingtonpost.com/statesong.

"Let the people speak!" O'Brien said.

The lyrics all share certain similarities--effusive praise of the state's beauty and nobility and many references to the Atlantic Ocean, Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley.

But the tunes have distinct melodies and rhythms. The eight finalists range from the funky "Sweet Virginia Breeze" to the gospel-influenced "Virginia, the Land I Love" to Dean's country-twanged "Virginia."

Another song called "Virginia," in which Loudoun County composer Lynn Rinker put new words to the folk tune "Shenandoah," also advanced.

"I think it's cool," Rinker said after the announcement. "I'm delighted that they liked it."

But several composers whose songs didn't make the cut criticized the committee's decisions. Some have grumbled that Dean, who at a previous meeting handed out compact discs of the tune he and his wife, Donna, penned, had undue pull because of their wealth and celebrity. They traveled to today's meeting in a white stretch limo with the license plate "2 DEANS."

Dean responded today, telling the committee that he and his wife turned down an offer from lobbyists claiming they could win over the committee in exchange for fees totaling more than $100,000. In the interest of fairness, Dean said, they chose instead to simply take their song on the road to schools and churches.

"The sausage money didn't go into it, contrary to what you may think," Dean said. "It was Donna and Jimmy's boot leather and gasoline that's gone into the song."

Others have launched their own lobbying efforts, encouraging friends and local civic groups to send in letters supporting a favorite song. But members of the 12-person committee said they mostly trusted their ears, irking those who hoped a public outpouring would win votes.

Committee Chairman Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta) told the room full of composers that all 20 of the songs were worthy and that some of his favorites got cut. "For anyone who indicated that we don't have good quality in the songs, they're just wrong," Hanger said.

But that wasn't good enough for composer Bob Campbell, of Staunton, who wrote "Home, Sweet Home, Virginia."

"If it's a great song," Campbell asked Hanger, "why wasn't it selected?"

STATE SONG FINALISTS

By going to the Virginia Web site, washingtonpost.com/

statesong, readers can listen to some of the finalists and see lyrics for all entries. The eight finalists, chosen from a field of 339 songs submitted more than a year ago, are:

Song Title:

"Virginia, the Land I Love"

"Virginia"

"Sweet Virginia Breeze"

"Virginia's My Home"

"Virginia"

"Oh, Virginia"

"Take Me Home to Virginia"

"Longing for Old Virginia"

CAPTION: A song written by Jimmy Dean, singer and sausage mogul, and his wife has made the final eight. The Deans are lobbying the state to choose "Virginia."