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John Rich Dishes on Lessons Learned From Donald Trump and Why He’ll Be the Next ‘Celebrity Apprentice’

John Rich
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Sunday evening, John Rich accomplished an incredible feat on Donald Trump’s reality TV show ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ by making it into the series finale, which will air live next weekend. Throughout the 12 tasks on the show, Rich has proved time and time again that he is in the competition to win. He has already raised an amazing $750,000 for his charity of choice, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and if he beats actress Marlee Matlin for the title of the latest ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ Rich will have raked in over a million dollars for the hospital.

Taste of Country sat down with Rich only hours after finding out he has made it to finale to talk about the past several weeks leading up to this point and what he feels his chances are of becoming the next ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’

Did you ever imagine going into ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ challenge that you would be sitting in the final two fighting to win the title?
No, because there’s so many twists and turns on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ that can get you fired. I mean, if you make one wrong decision or go with one wrong phrase, and if that’s what causes you to lose [the task], Trump will fire you. There’s just so many things that can happen to keep you out of the final two that the chance of you getting there is almost impossible. I was up against some really crafty, smart people — people like Star Jones, Meat Loaf, Lil Jon — some really smart people and smart marketers, too. I feel fortunate to be there. I want to go to New York and grab the brass ring and win, but I’ve got a really tough competitor. Marlee Matlin is no slouch by any stretch. She wants to win as bad as I do. It will truly be a horse race.

When it got down to the final four, did you have a feeling it would be Marlee who you’d be facing off with if you got into the final two?
I thought there was a good chance because she’s raised a million already. That’s more than anybody had raised. I thought there was a chance that Lil Jon might edge her out, but then again, it was all up to Donald Trump. Lil Jon didn’t mention himself when asked who he thought the final two should be. Any time that you don’t mention yourself as a winner, Trump rips you apart with it [laughs]. It’s been documented. You don’t ever say anything other than ‘Yes sir, I think we’ve won … I think we’re going to win.’ If he senses any hesitation in your voice he’s going to take you out, and that’s what happened to Lil Jon, unfortunately, because he is a rally good friend of mine.

It had to be a pretty cool feeling for you when you were sitting there in the boardroom and all three of your competitors were saying they thought they’d be facing off against you in the end.
When I heard the other three all say that I should be one of the final two, I was blown away by that. What do you say to that? But I might be one of the only people in the whole cast who never really made any enemies on the show. I never viciously went after anybody. I always just tried to bring something to the table, no matter what the task was, that was so valuable to the task that even if we lost, Trump couldn’t fire me because I worked, trying to win. I think my teammates appreciated how hard I worked at it, and I always gave my A-game, whether it was for my charity or theirs.

Can you talk a little bit about this last task? You obviously had a little bit of an advantage by being able to call in help from Dee Snider, who you got to know while filming the CMT series ‘Gone Country.’
How about that? ‘Gone Country’ came into play on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ … that’s pretty cool! I’ve made a lot of friends throughout the course of my career. I’m looking at coming up on a 20-year career. I met a lot of people that I can draw on and I got a lot of friendships I can call in. For this particular one — an ’80s icon, and you’re selling 7UP Retro — you need somebody who’s over-the-top. Who is better than Dee Snider turning into Twisted Sister? I don’t think that you can beat that! I’ll find out this next Sunday night if I won that task or not, but after seeing how Marlee went after theirs, theirs was really tame compared to what we did. We went for the throat, big time! When you bring in Twisted Sister, you’re going for it! And this is the time that you’re supposed to go for it because you’re trying to win the whole thing. You’re playing hard for your charity, and you’re trying to win. I pulled out all the stops, there’s no doubt about it.

What is something you have learned about yourself from being on the show?
Well, I would say it’s real clear of what I have learned, and that is that I’m really at my best when I am playing on behalf of something bigger than me. In this case, it’s St. Jude. I told Trump that ‘Apprentice’ allows you to take everything that you’ve built for a career for your own self interest and leverage that on behalf of your charity. That means contacts, things you’ve learned, your marketing ability, your donors, your celebrity friends … the whole mountain of stuff that you build. It allowed me to make it not about me, but to use it on behalf of a charity like St. Jude.

You’ve always been known for making smart business decisions throughout your career, but since working for Donald Trump and seeing how he runs his business, what is something you’ve learned from him?
Ask a question, and then sit back and let people answer it [laughs]. It’s the hardest thing for me to not go on a rant because so many things are on your mind that you want to say, but when you watch Trump operate, he rarely does that. He’ll say a couple of sentences that he knows will evoke a response, [and] then he just sits back and listens. Then he takes that information, and asks his second question and his third question. That’s how he arrives at his decisions. That really is methodical and a smart way to do it.

Would you ever consider going into business with any of your competitors that you worked with on the show?
It’s probably just a pipe dream, but I think it would be a really fun show if you had Meat Loaf, Lil Jon, myself and Mark McGrath [of Sugar Ray]. You would have rap, country and pop-rock — pretty much every kind of music you could come up with — all in the same show and call it Back Bone Band [laughs]. We talked about that amongst ourselves. If we could ever get our schedules to line up, I wouldn’t be surprised if we booked a few shows under that name.

So next week, you’re in New York at the finale. Donald Trump looks at you and says, ‘You’re hired!’ How are you going to celebrate?
Wow! I’ll probably go out and celebrate harder if I don’t win because that means that I don’t have anything to do the next morning [laughs]. If you win, it’s a whirlwind of press. You do every show out there that there is to do. It would probably have to wait until I got back to Nashville to really throw down like I’d want to. I’d have to go down to Lower Broadway or something and meet up with everybody.

Do you think you are going to win?
I’m cautiously optimistic that I’m going to win. There’s no way to know. I think as a body of work if you look at the season of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ and compare what I’ve brought to the table as compared to what Marlee brought to the table, task-by-task — and there were 12 of them — I think that I beat her to the punch on it, but we’ll see. That’s all up to Trump. He’s going to pick who he’s going to pick.

I think you have a lot of people pulling for you to win, just because of the fact that you’re sharp, focused and confident. When you see the other competitors going through interviews, they squirm some, but with you, there’s no getting you off your game.
At this point in the game, you’ve got to have ice water in your blood. You’ve got to be Wyatt Earp [laughs]. You’re Clint Eastwood. You’re staring at the competition, and you’re like, ‘I’m going to win. You’re going to lose. That’s it.’ It’s not a cocky attitude, but you have to be that confident and go forward with complete confidence because Donald Trump will smell that. He’ll sniff out weakness, kind of like a horse. They say a horse will know when you’re scared of it … well, that’s kind of how Donald Trump is. If he sees that you’re shaky, he’ll pounce on you and rip you to shreds. I’m not a shaky kind of person. I’m fighting for my charity, and that gives me a lot of confidence.

Watch John Rich Talk About the Strategies of ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’

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