In the end, there could only be one, and although Donald Trump promised to “do something a little different,” he picked the person most people expected he would pick, John Rich, as his Celebrity Apprentice champion. The country crooner chatted with EW.com about his experience on the show, being hit on by Star Jones, burying the hatchet with Busey, and his “hardest task of all,” which had nothing to do with 7UP. Read on after the jump for the full Q&A.
There was a little bit of controversy over you raising $275,000 on what was not a fund-raising task. Marlee seemed taken back by that in the Boardroom.
Well, here’s the thing: I knew that there was some more money out there, and because the finale task was not a fund-raising task I thought to myself, just because it’s not a fund-raising task doesn’t mean I can’t keep accepting money from people. You know, you make the finale and you’re talking about huge exposure, and a huge moment on television, so I kept making calls to the donors and one company that I called was Dollar General who has been a big supporter of country music and St. Jude for a long time, and they had wanted to make a donation earlier but couldn’t get it all done in time because they put such time constraints on you. I called them up and said, “Listen, I made the final two. Are you guys still good for that donation?” And they said yes and they came in there with $250,000, and I don’t know how you leave that on the table. You’re talking about the kids at St. Jude. Anybody that has a problem with that, they just have a problem. You can’t have a problem with that.
Part of being successful is picking the right team of people around you. I thought from the start that you picked a much stronger team with Lil Jon, Mark McGrath and Star. You agree?
Absolutely. Mark, Star, Lil Jon — these people are, in my opinion, all-stars from the season, and I definitely felt like I had an advantage having that kind of brain power. You have the best calculator and strategist on the show in Star Jones, and Lil Jon is obviously the best marketer, and Mark McGrath is like a popcorn machine, just constant energy and different ideas coming out of him. And I agree with you that having a great team around me definitely helped us get that win.
You had a bit of a Spinal Tap moment when you introduced Def Leppard 20 minutes early. Was that your biggest gaffe of the season?
It was a hiccup for sure. I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Def Leppard!” And there was no Def Leppard. And it really wasn’t their fault. I had just gotten ahead of the time and had a little lapse there for a second. But like I said, if you get a lemon, you make lemonade. So I just grabbed my guitar, which allowed me to open for Def Leppard, which is something that’s pretty cool. I don’t know if I would have ever had the opportunity to open for Def Leppard.
Whose idea was it for you to perform at the finale with Marlee and the New York School for the Deaf?
That performance to me was the highlight of the whole show. To have both of our charities represented, and then have Marlee signing and me singing, and to have St. Jude kids in the audience and the deaf choir — all that coming together at one time — I looked out at the audience and people were really, really moved by it.
You had some issues with Gary Busey during the season. What was your interaction like at the finale and did you buy on Omaha Steaks kite off of him?
Well, first of all, I’m glad Gary finally got his kite. He can finally stop talking about it. Me and Gary are fine, and actually Gary was in Nashville last week and came over to my house to watch the last episode of Celebrity Apprentice together at my house. It’s pretty cool to have Gary Busey in your cell phone because any time you want to have a Twilight Zone moment, you just hit speed dial and there it is.
So, is Star Jones still hitting on you and has she tried to get you to beat up NeNe for her?
Star Jones is still hitting on me I’m proud to say and she was squeezing on me pretty good last night. Like I always said, I’d rather have Star Jones loving on me than hating on me.
I know where Richard Hatch was, obviously, but what about Jose Canseco and Dionne Warwick? They were also M.I.A.
I think Dionne had a concert in London — a really, really big concert that was just too good to turn down. I’m not sure what happened to Jose, but obviously we know that Richard Hatch was in his jumpsuit watching it from somewhere. That poor guy. I feel bad for him. Richard and I actually became pretty good friends on the show. You gotta pay your taxes — that’s the thing.
I have to imagine that you would have been crushed had you not won, so how is Marlee taking it?
You know, I would not have been crushed If I had had not won. I wanted to win because I wanted that last quarter of a million for St Jude, but raising over a million dollars for them and getting the awareness factor out there — I couldn’t have ever thought we would have accomplished that much so yeah, of course I wanted to win. But if Marlee had won I would have been jumping up and down and clapping for her because she has a great charity as well. So I don’t think there were any losers last night.
How did she take it?
Well, she was emotional about it. She wanted to win. But I thought she was a good sport about it. She said, “It is what it is. It’s Donald Trump. You never know what he’s going to say or do.” I think that was a true horse race right down to the wire.
As a winner, this means you get to come back and interview next year’s final four. Think you can get Trump to put on the cowboy hat again?
How cool is it that Donald Trump put on a Stetson cowboy hat? Who would have ever thought you would see that in your lifetime? To me, that was the hardest task of all — getting him to put on a Stetson. I think that’s just a great sign of respect and I guarantee you right now that every country music radio station out there is talking about Donald Trump wearing a cowboy hat.
Make sure to also read Dalton’s recap of the Celebrity Apprentice season finale and weigh in with your thoughts on his casting suggestions for next season. And for more Celebrity Apprentice news and views, you can follow Dalton on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss.