LeAnn Rimes: 17 and Soaring (1999)

originally published November 2, 1999

At the ripe old age of 17, LeAnn Rimes is brand new.

After three grueling back-to-back years of touring, the record-setting superstar knew she was on the brink of burnout. She needed a break, and she took one --staying off the road for a year. 

It was a time to recapture some of her lost youth, move her education forward, and grow emotionally, physically and musically. 

"I got control of my life," she confides.

"The little girl has grown up. I am a new LeAnn. I want to reach higher career levels. I feel like I'm ready to take on a whole new world."

That new world features a mini-tour, a new movie and soundtrack. Plus a sassy, chart-scorching new single and an album that pays homage to country music's legendary performers. 

"People will see me in a totally new light after this album," she says. "It has one new song with attitude and the rest are classic remakes."

The album, LeAnn Rimes, set for an Oct. 26 release, includes the new single "Big Deal" plus LeAnn's versions of 11 country classics originally done by Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins and Kris Kristofferson.

"I've listened to those wonderful performers since I was a baby," explains LeAnn, before going onstage at a Mississippi casino. "Doing those classic songs is my tribute to country's legends. 

"The album has some of the most amazing songs from artists of another time. Songs that touched me. My goal is to bring them to a younger generation that hasn't heard them and to the older generation that knows them by heart."

LeAnn turns in stirring renditions of Hank's "Lovesick Blues" and "Your Cheatin' Heart"; Patsy's "Crazy," "Faded Love," "I Fall to Pieces"; Marty's "Don't Worry" and Kris' "Me and Bobby McGee."

"I hope the album shows my fans I am now and will always be a country singer," she declares. "This album redefines the country roots where I began and the music I love. Some people say I'm going to stray from country. That will never happen."

Even if that means taking a professional risk. "It may be somewhat daring to do a collection like this, because critics have put me down for including classic remakes on my previous albums -- even though they've done very well for me," she says.

The album's lone contemporary song -- which rocketed into the Top 30 in only six weeks -- also reveals a daring side of LeAnn.

" 'Big Deal' has a lot of attitude," she exclaims. "It was fun to sing and I got to show another facet of myself. I'm not so sweet and cute on the song.

"In the studio I really got into it. I even got a little mad. It's about an ex-girlfriend who's angry about her best friend throwing the guy she used to date in her face. I did some acting on the song and played out that anger. 

" 'Big Deal' is fun to perform. I'm happy with the fans' reaction to it. It makes me believe I didn't lose any ground during the time off."

The Texas-raised songstress has undeniably covered a lot of ground: 

** She's released four platinum-selling albums. Blue sold a whopping 6 million copies. You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs debuted at No. 1 simultaneously on the country, pop and Christian charts -- a history-making achievement by a country artist. 

** She won a 1996 Grammy for Best New Artist -- marking the first time the coveted award as ever been won by a country performer. And she captured trophies from the CMA, ACM and the American Music Awards.

** Her 1997 "How Do I Live" became the first single to reach 3 million in sales by a country artist -- and at 69 consecutive weeks, it became the longest-running song in history on Billboard's singles chart.

** She co-wrote a book, Holiday in Your Heart, and starred with actress Bernadette Peters in the TV movie it inspired.

Rested and re-energized, LeAnn's convinced there was no downside to her time off.

"The break from touring benefitted me in a lot of ways," she says. "I got to become a real person again. During that time, I made a lot of new friends, which was hard to do out on the road."

How about dating?

"The whole 'guy thing' has been hard for me. It's always been that way, because I really didn't have time for relationships while I was touring. 

"Now I have time, but," she smiles, "I'd really like to keep that part of my life private. I think everyone knows everything about me -- except that. So it's something I want to remain out of the limelight." 

While LeAnn has been in the limelight, she's grown up right before our eyes. She's no longer the little 14-year-old who won America's heart with her yodeling in "Blue." 

"I feel great, and I feel great about myself," she explains. "And the photos included on the new album will show how I've changed physically."

LeAnn spent part of her time off working toward completing high school. "I continued my schooling through the correspondence courses," she explains. "When I finish high school, I'll probably take some college correspondence courses."

LeAnn admits the best part of not touring was simply staying still.

"I got to live for an extended period of time in an honest to goodness house -- one that's not moving down the road from place to place." She and her mother, Belinda, leased a home in Los Angeles, though they still have their Dallas residence. "Mom and I have been able to spend a lot of time together. We've had some real fun times."

Speaking of fun times, LeAnn celebrated birthday No. 17 Aug. 28.

"I don't feel any older, but I know the last year was a time of growth for me. I learned about myself. I got back in touch with the real me."

She grins. "I can remember my mom telling me 'when you get older, time flies by.' It's true. The year I was 16 just flew by. It seemed like it was only six months long! I'm already beginning to feel time going by faster -- and I'm not that old yet."

The time off has had a positive impact on LeAnn's live performances, too.

"Spending a lot of time traveling on a tour bus, from show to show, you sometimes feel like a robot," she confesses. "That's what was happening to me. My fans, who are the best in the world, deserve better than that. 

"Now every time I walk onstage I have a blast. I feel rejuvenated. Performing has always been great for me, but now it's as fun as in the beginning. The break in touring made it new again for me -- and for the fans."

LeAnn is definitely familiar with the grind of the road. She's performed an incredible 400 concerts since storming onto the national scene in 1996. "One year I did 160 shows. The next year when I did the Something to Talk About tour with Bryan White, we did some 118 dates," she says. "Plus I did my solo shows." 

LeAnn's new road schedule reflects her determination not to let touring get out of hand again. "I'm only doing about 20 shows this year," she says. 

Between shows, she'll promote the new album with appearances on David Letterman, Rosie O'Donnell, Jay Leno and a CMT special. CMT All Access: LeAnn Rimes premieres Oct. 20 and will repeat multiple times throughout the month and in November.

"Next year's tour won't be the kind of huge tour I've done in the past either," she notes. "Starting in about May, I'll do about 30 dates in the U.S., plus other dates in Europe and Australia.

"I love the fans overseas. They're so respectful and giving," she adds. "The month-long tour I did in Australia was wonderful, and the promotional tours I did last year in Europe and Japan allowed me to expand my music there."

Expanding her music and roles in the movies is another goal of the multi-talented young lady. But finding the perfect project is challenging.

"I was pitched a couple of films that I really thought about doing but I finally determined they were not the best for me to start out with. I've been kind of picky, but I have to be. I want my feature film debut to be as right as it can be. Since I'm not solely an actor, I have to make decisions about roles with my music career firmly in mind. I felt I had to wait for exactly the right thing."

LeAnn's wait seems to be over. "It's too soon to reveal a lot of details, but I'm developing a feature film with Warner Bros. that we'll probably shoot early next year," she explains. "I can say it's a drama that will probably be released later in 2000. 

"The film also involves my music as the soundtrack. The music will probably be more pop or rock than people are used to hearing from me."

Movie soundtracks are nothing new for LeAnn. She recorded "Leaving's Not Leaving" for the upcoming Susan Sarandon movie Anywhere But Here, set for an Oct. 22 release. The tune was written by Diane Warren, who penned the LeAnn's smash "How Do I Live."

LeAnn pauses, collecting her thoughts.

"Sometimes when people have success fast they tend to push and push. That's what happened to me. Then I had to take some time for me. 

"Now I know how to better handle success, instead of pushing myself to the max. "And one thing's for sure," she says seriously. "I won't let things get out of control again."

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