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LOS ANGELES — Travis Leonard gets paid to walk around without a shirt on.

If you remember him from his sports career at Mahomet-Seymour and the University of Illinois, you might not recognize him on "Sweet Home Alabama," a CMT reality show where buff boys woo a Southern belle.

In high school, he set the Corn Belt Conference record in the discus, and later he was in the Big Ten discus championships.

To hoist the shot put, discus and hammer in track, he chunked up to 262 pounds. Now he's hunked down to 185.

He's contractually forbidden to say if he lasts through all 10 episodes on the Friday night show, which premiered Nov. 15, but you can tell Leonard is pretty confident that as a member of the "city boy" team, he can beat the country boys to the belle.

Leonard, a 27-year-old nurse whose father James is CEO of the Carle Foundation, is more comfortable on the slim side.

He describes himself as a musician/nurse — "murse, if you will."

Other than Meat Loaf and Luciano Pavarotti, husky boys have not been known to wow the music world. Leonard has four musical projects but spends the most time with his main band, Northridge.

Leonard has been in bands since high school, and he knew he had to get down to playing weight for the concert circuit.

It wasn't natural to be such a big man, Leonard said.

"To be up that high, I had to eat all the time," he said. "To lose it was not that hard. I did cardio five times a week. The trainers (at Illinois) knew that when I was through with track, I wanted to be lean."

Discipline is a part of his life: "I played football and basketball. They teach you time management. I could juggle sports, music and school."

His mother, Robin, was his strict eighth-grade English teacher.

"She really stuck it to me," he joked.

After experimenting with California by attending the University of California at Santa Barbara, he returned to study geography and throw heavy objects at the UI.

As part of his time management, he also earned a nursing degree at Parkland College while fronting a band, Vanattica.

He has also studied medical geography, in which he has made cancer maps.

There's not much time for his nursing career right now.

"I do home care about once a month, just to keep current," he said.

Until "Sweet Home Alabama," he was doing a lot of studio work, making music for video games and commercials. He's also represented by a modeling agency.

On the show's website, Leonard's bio describes him as "a 27-year-old nurse from Tarzana, Calif."

"He is very close with his family and his parents have been together for 35 years," the biography continues. "He wants to find a girl with a great set of communication skills and a lifestyle that pairs with his ambitions. He travels frequently for his music and would love a sweet, Southern belle to join him on the adventure."

Leonard's quite open to finding that belle because he is currently girlfriend-free: "No time," he said.

Though some might find Mahomet not especially urban, the producers of "Sweet Home Alabama" decided Leonard would be on the "city boy" team.

"I see myself as a hybrid," he said.

To win the heart of Kelsey Dee Smith, Leonard has written a song called "Southern Belle" for his band Northridge.

For now, he's ensconced with the city boys and country boys in a house in Fairhope, Ala.

"Those fights you see in the commercials? That's real stuff," he said. "There's a lot of animosity going on, a rift between the country and city guys."

But Leonard's not part of it.

"I'm not a confrontational person," he said.

If you watch

What: "An all-American bachelorette is looking for love in 'Sweet Home Alabama.' This time, she will be faced with the tough decision of city versus country in her search for Mr. Right."

Potential Mr. Right: Travis Leonard, who went to Mahomet-Seymour High School and the University of Illinois

When: 8 p.m. Fridays (10 episodes; premiered Nov. 15)

Where: CMT (Country Music Television)


Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).