"I love the truth. It's pretty rare in the entertainment world, and somebody has to set these kids straight," said Judd, back with the CMT talent contest that begins its second season Saturday (8 p.m. EDT).
Her goal, however, is to leave contestants with "something positive, so you don't break their spirit like Simon Cowell does," she said. "I've never watched that show because someone told me he actually told a girl that she was making his ears bleed. That's not my style."
Her aversion is a bit ironic, since "Can You Duet" and "American Idol" are from the same producer, FremantleMedia North America. While Judd may be gentle with budding singers, she'snot reluctant to take on big targets — whether Cowell or country music itself.
She dismisses some quarters of the industry as "really counterfeit," while gratefully citing performers like Trace Adkins and Martina McBride as an example of what's right.
"I know these folks as people, and I know they're that way 24/7. They have musical integrity … they don't want to just be rich and famous and (on) the cover of a magazine. They do it because they can't not do it," Judd said.
"The whole thing about marketing and focus groups — oh, please," she adds, disdain in her voice.
She's already singled out at least one compelling voice among the 20 "Can You Duet" finalists: Jonathan Cox, 18, of Lenoir, N.C., who's paired on the show with Brandon Green, 23, of Lucedale, Miss., as JB Rocket.
"I was so completely mesmerized by this kid. … I said to him, 'You have one of the most remarkable talents I have ever seen in my lifetime,'" the 63-year-old Judd said.
She shares judging duties with Big Kenny (of the Big&Rich duo) and music industry executive Scott Borchetta. CMT's Lance Smith is the host.
Judd, who occupied the top ranks of country music as part of the Judds with daughter Wynonna, left the duo in 1991 when she was diagnosed with hepatitis. She's overcome the disease and is busy with entertainment projects and working as an advocate for women's health and other issues.
She's also a proud mom, happily trilling the praises of solo artist Wynonna ("I think she's the best singer there is") and actress Ashley (in Africa working on a documentary about women and planning a year's study of government at Harvard University).
Naomi Judd is intent on passing her experience and insights on to the singers trying to make their name on "Can You Duet." Last year's winners, Caitlin&Will, and runners-up Joey&Rory have released singles.
She brought contestants out to her sprawling Tennessee farm and gathered the women in front of a full-length mirror.
"I talked to them about their style and I just said, 'Don't let anybody, not even me, influence you. You have to play your music in front of the mirror so it matches, so your inside — your style, your lyrics, your presentation — match your outside."
Judd acknowledges that maybe "the crinolines and the rhinestones and the beading and my ultra-feminine glam style isn't theirs. But part of life is figuring out what doesn't work for you."