The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on September 29, 1996 · Page 44
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 44

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, September 29, 1996
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Page 44
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BIG VOICES TO FOUflW: Blue, Rimes' hit, was sent to Patsy Cline (above), who died without recording it; Tanya Tucker (below), like Rimes, took Nashville by storm at 13. I T'S 1 O'CLOCK on a sweltering Las Vegas afternoon and things are hopping at the Country Star American Music Grill. Some 500 people have crowded in to see LeAnn Rimes, whose album featuring the sultry ballad Blue has topped the charts for months. Rimes poses like a seasoned politician for the obligatory photos. She belts out a few songs to thunderous applause. Does a quick radio interview. Plows through some in-house video promotions, sending greetings to future restaurant patrons ("Hi, this is LeAnn Rimes. Happy birthday!" she says. "Hi, this is LeAnn Rimes. Happy anniversary! ...). She manages a few bites of a burger and some fries before being whisked away by a hovering publicist to sign autographs. Water is fetched for her. Security guards stand watch over her. A middle-aged man gives her a letter that says her voice saved him from suicide. All in a day's work for a kid who just turned 14 last month. SINCE HER TORCHY, decidedly retro hit exploded onto the scene in May, the Texas teenager has set country music on its ear, prompting comparisons to past teen sensations Brenda Lee and Tanya Tucker, as well as to the immortal Patsy Cline, for whom Blue originally was written. But while Rimes' nostalgic style has set off a sales frenzy — the album has gone gold and is headed toward platinum —some Nashville insiders seem to be holding their applause till it's clear whether Rimes is a one-hit wonder or a legend in the making. Some traditional country radio stations don't quite know what to make of her, either. "It doesn't sound like the kind of country music we play in 1996," explains program director Renee Revett of KXKC in Lafayette, La. Regardless, Rimes could become the youngest winner ever at the Country Music Association Awards this Wednesday (CBS, 8 p.m. ET). She's nominated for Single of the Year and the coveted Horizon Award, given to the artist whose career has advanced farthest — and fastest, in Rimes' case — in the past year. The more time you spend with her, the harder it is to remember that the I try not to let it get to my head. When they say I sold 129,000 albums in a week, it's like, This is cool.'...If I did dwell on it, I'd be a pain." COUNTRY'S EARTS 14-year-old LeAnn Rimes — up for two country music awards this week — tackles love songs with the best of her brokenhearted elders * BY JENNIFER MENDELSOHN * person at the center of all the fuss was born during the Reagan years and is too young to drive, vote or get married. DESPITE THE FACT that she's never far from hairspray and a curling iron, Rimes is anything but a teenybopper. She's never had a boyfriend, but she tackles love songs with the best of her brokenhearted elders: "You left me/ Like a child in the rain/Now I'm lost in an ocean of pain," she sings with a voice so impossibly colossal and polished you're tempted to peer behind her to see where it's really coming from. Though one part of her success is shrewd marketing — her press kit includes a video that talks about the Patsy Cline connection—for the most part it's for real. Her voice is as memorably sultry as Kathleen Turner's in Body Heat, but with the classic country clarity only a few have achieved. Not many 14-year-olds will look you in the eye and tell you they'd prefer to be known as an "artist," not just a "singing sensation." And how many teens admire Reba McEntire "because she's made good business decisions"? "I'm very involved in the business part of my career," Rimes says matter- of-factly. "That's one thing I don't stay out of.... I want to know what's going on. Because it's my life." Look hard enough, though, and the teenager will emerge: She has a girlish, nervous giggle and pink and purple toenails. Her favorite adjectives are "neat," "nice" and "cool." She gives out identical quotes from one interview to the next and has a mother who worries she won't be dressed warmly enough for an appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman. "It's going to be cool in that studio," 44-year-old Belinda Rimes warns, as only a mother can. (They've gone to the mall to shop for a Letterman outfit—with $450 in cash.) But it's not always "neat" and "nice" for a child in an adult world. While Rimes is busy opening for country's A-list stars, you can sense a polite reluctance from them to say anything definitive just yet. With their spokespeople citing everything from "too busy" to "don't know her yet" to "on vacation without a phone," stars such as Vince Gill, Wynonna, Reba McEntire and even Tanya Tucker turned down the opportunity to talk about the new girl in town. Notwithstanding others' opinions (or lack of them), Rimes has taken to celebrity with an unnerving, almost otherworldly calm. It's difficult to tell whether hers is a studied, professional detachment or if she simply has no clue what is happening to her. Or maybe, in the end, it's just that she looks at the world through the eyes of a 14-year-old. SHE MAY BE NEW to Nashville, but Rimes has been on the fast track to stardom since birth. "It was like LeAnn knew what she came into this world wanting to do," her mother says. As a toddler in Mississippi, LeAnn would sing herself to sleep. By age 3 she was tap-dancing. At 5, she entered her first talent competition, and after the family moved to Garland, Texas, LeAnn entered the local opry circuit. At the tender age of 8, she was bringing down the house every Saturday night at Johnnie High's Country Music Revue in Arlington, Texas. She even tried out for Annie II on Broadway and spent two weeks as champion on television's Star Search. (All this in a family with no particular musical talent in its background.) After singing the national anthem at a Dallas Cowboys game, Rimes caught the attention of legendary Dallas disc jockey and songwriter Bill Mack, who was so taken with her that he went to Fort Worth to see her in a show. "At 11 years old, it was frightening how unbelievably good she was," he recalls. Hearing that Rimes was in the market for material, Mack dusted off his seldom-recorded Blue. It was written in 1958 for Patsy Cline, who died in a 1963 plane crash before ever recording it. Although Rimes' father initially rejected Blue (its lyrics were too grown-up), he eventually relented, and the song was included on her first album, a small-scale production that was released only locally. (The cover features the precocious 11-year-old all dolled up in white fringe and gold sequins.) The tape found its way to Curb Records president Mike Curb, who took it on a family vacation. Curb was so mesmerized by Blue, he stopped at a gas station and called Rimes' dad from a pay phone. Rimes signed with the label last year and set to work on her current alburn, Blue, which includes the re-recorded title song. The first time Patsy Cline's widower, Nashville veteran Charlie Dick, heard Blue on his car radio, he hud to pull off the road and listen; the echoes of his late wife were unmistakable. "She's got a little bit of a lot of people in her voice," Dick says of Rimes. "1 hear Brenda Lee. I hear Patsy. I hear other people." As for Blue, "I'm sorry Patsy couldn't have had a shot at it." IN THE WAKE of Blue's runaway success, LeAnn Rimes has been plunged headlong into the maelstrom of contemporary stardom. Everyone seems to want a piece of her. But her parents are adamant that their daughter not fall victim to child star-itis. Her father, Wilbur, a former oil digging supply salesman, manages her career, along with attorney Lyle Walker. "We just shoot straight," says Wilbur, 44. "What you see is what you get." "My job right now," mom Belinda says, "is to keep her head on straight, keep her honorable. ... She's a God- given child with a God-given talent." Indeed, the Rimes operation has a down-home, folksy feel, as if their last name were Partridge. Though Rimes now has a Hollywood publicist, a big- name agent and a 1,000-member fan club, her father still hand-writes the band's set lists in a spiral-bound notebook. Belinda offers to unpack the keyboard player's suitcase. And the band 4 USA WEEKEND • Sept. 27-29. I9V6 COVi-K PHOTOGRAPH BY THEO WliSTENBURCil-R members treat their teen boss like a cherished niece. "We're not going to let her date until she's 40," laughs steel guitarist Junior Knight. Still, Letterman appearances and sold-out venues come with a price: Rimes, who dropped out of school to go on the road, acknowledges she has no friends her own age. (She's home- schooled, through Texas Tech University.) And with her unrelenting schedule —she's often away for three weeks at a time — she jokes that the family may have to celebrate Thanksgiving at McDonald's. Dating is out of the question. "What's the use?" she sighs. "I'm not in one place at one time." "The hardest thing about this is: How do you let her be a child?" admits Wilbur Rimes. "You just about can't do that." Will LeAnn one day regret having missed out on prom dates and sleepovers? "Things you've never done, you don't miss," he says stoically, as if he's rehearsed the line. Belinda Rimes seems less certain. "I wonder sometimes if when she has children of her When Patsy Cline's widower, Charlie Dick, first heard Blue on his car radio, he had to pull over and listen. The echoes of his late wife were unmistakable. own, will she do all of that with them?" Either way, it seems Rimes' career has gathered too much momentum for any of them to turn back now. "Some of the time, when I really feel tired and I'm thinking, 'Whew! Can I go on from here?', [LeAnn] gets on that stage, and the people start going crazy, and you think, 'She's having a good time,'" says Belinda. "What can you do? She's enjoying every minute of it. You'd be behind her 100 percent." UNANSWERED FOR NOW is the big question: Will her career wane when the novelty wears off? When the public wearies of Cline comparisons and the next newcomer hits the charts with a bullet? Says KXKC's Revett: "Oftentimes, when an artist gets this much exposure at such a young age, I fear that they're being set up to fail.... It's going to be that fine line of 'Can she be marketed and placed so she can stay there?' I praise her talent. I question her impact." "Blue has been one of the biggest singles in the last 10 years," says music director Tony Thomas of Seattle's KMPS. "The question is: Is this the dawn of a career for a new artist, or is it just a novelty? I believe, in the end, [Rimes'] talent will win out." No matter what becomes of LeAnn Rimes, her almost freakish success thus far is a breath of fresh air in an industry where too many hits are the calculated products of the official star-making mechanism, says Billboard country columnist Wade Jessen. "I'm someone who eats, drinks and sleeps country music," he says. "This kind of renews your faith that there are some things that can come out of left field. It underscores what Nashville's always been about. And it's welcome reassurance." C3 Jennifer Mendelsohn, a Washington, D.C., writer, last wrote for USA WEEKEND about "sick schools." WEDNESDAY'S AWARDS Vince Gill, host of the 30th annual Country Music Association Awards at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, is up for seven awards, including Entertainer of the Year. Rimes, who has opened for Gill In concerts, is up for Single of the Year and the Horizon Award. USA WEEKEND • Sept. 27-29, 1996 5

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