Music • LeAnn Rimes

The little girl with the big voice is in it for the long haul.

WHEN I INTERVIEWED country singer LeAnn Rimes in Wyoming last summer, she was doing pretty well. Riding the crest of “Blue,” her Patsy Clinestyle first hit single, she and her band and parents had flown to Denver on a commercial airline and had driven to the date in rental cars. This summer, for her set at a four-day outdoor festival just west of Grand Junction, Colorado, Rimes and troupe arrived in two buses, accompanied by a truck full of sound equipment. Early the next morning, they would hop a pair of Lear jets, provided by the promoter, to get to the next night’s show in Wisconsin on time.

It has been that kind of a year for LeAnn Rimes, still a couple of months shy of fifteen on this Colorado afternoon. “If I could put this last year into one word, it’d be crazy,’” she says. “I don’t think anybody could really expect what has happened to me. I guess talent and luck put together equals what happened.”

It’s one-thirty, and Rimes has just finished waking up, doing her hair, and eating a meal brought from the backstage kitchen. She’s sitting at the table in her bus, which she shares with her parents, Wilbur (her co-manager) and Belinda, and her other co-manager, Lyle Walker. The second bus is occupied by her band and crew. Sponsored by a steakhouse chain, both buses are painted silver and teal. They’re not, strictly speaking, buses, consisting of Peterbilt truck cabs hauling bus bodies. Wilbur, whose father was a trucker, designed the “Peterbus” so he could get the vehicles gassed and serviced at truck stops, which are much more plentiful on the interstate than bus service stations. He gets a lot of laughs when he pulls into a truck stop, but his plan worksand it saves a few bucks too. Soon Rimes will get her own Peterbus, which will be black and silver.

Most country stars, after their first year in the biz, are happy to have just one bus. The Peterbuses and Lear jets aren’t the only signs of prosperity for Rimes and her family: After seven years in an apartment in the Dallas suburb of Garland, they’ve moved into a house, also in Garland. The apartment had a small recording studio rigged up in the living room; the house has a swimming pool. The trouble is, they rarely get to use it.

In the past year Rimes has become the symbol of country music’s youth movement, as well as its crossover queen. The big-voiced singer won Grammys for best female country vocal for “Blue”and for best new artist, the first country act ever to snare that award. “I’m gonna go out to dinner tonight,” she said after picking up the second trophy. “At my age I don’t know how else I can celebrate.” Though she didn’t win either of the Country Music Association Awards she was nominated for last fall, she was hardly disappointed after years of watching the show on TV, she got to open this one by singing “Blue.” Then she took home three trophies from the Academy of Country Music Awards last spring. Her CD Unchained Melody/The Early Years, recorded when she was eleven and twelve, entered both the country and pop charts at number one, knocking Blue down to number two on the country charts.

With a ghostwriter she completed the novel Holiday in Your Heart, about a teenage singer’s Christmas. That will be published in November, followed by a Christmastime ABC Movie of the Week adaptation starring Rimes. She has been the subject of two quickie paperback biographies but plans to write her own autobiography next year. Over the summer the Disney Channel aired a special called LeAnn Rimes in Concert, and she’s hosting a CBS-TNN documentary about Fan Fair, the annual week in Nashville when fans can get autographs and have their pictures taken with country stars. She was also a cohost, in June, of CountryFest ‘97, a day-long concert that brought nearly 300,000 fans to the Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth.

Oh, yes, she has been working on two new albums. One, an as-yet-untitled collection of gospel and contemporary Christian songs she cut between the ages of eleven and fourteen, is being referred to as “the inspirational album” and will be released this autumn. The second (also still unnamed) has all new material and should hit the stores early next year.

That is what you call a workload. In fact, since June 1996 Rimes has practically lived on the road, playing more than 175 concerts in addition to her other activities. “We have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” vows Walker. “Her success caught us all by surprise. We were honoring all the commitments we’d made and trying to take advantage of the best new opportunities that started coming in. This next year we’re going to drop down to about a hundred dates. We have to give her time to act like a fourteen-year-old too.”

That brings up what Rimes calls “the age thing.” Predictably, given her extraordinary poise and savvy, she doesn’t much like it. Just as predictably, it comes up again and again. Rimes doesn’t see herself as a role model or a heroine for teenagers. She has been careful to cultivate an across-the-age-spectrum following. Born August 28, 1982, Margaret LeAnn Rimesalways called LeAnn by her parentsfirst performed in front of an audience at age five, when she sang “Getting to Know You” at a talent show in her native Mississippi. Her family moved to Texas, and at seven she was performing at weekend Opry shows around the MetroplexMesquite, Garland, Greenville, and Grapevine. When “Blue” hit the national charts, she was thirteen years old and had already dropped out of junior high school upon signing a contract with Curb Records. Today she takes courses on the tenth-grade level through Texas Tech University, with a family friend named Teresa Stephens riding the bus as her tutor. Always an A student in school,

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