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The Mandrell Sisters Together Again

In their first interview together since Barbara Mandrell's retirement from country music, all three Mandrell sisters share a special day - and an exclusive glimpse into their lives, family and careers.

In the dressing room of the Louise Mandrell Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., reminiscing about their lives and careers and celebrating a very special occasion.

While it has been almost 25 years since the popular Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters show debuted for a two-year run on NBC-TV, the showbiz siblings have come together today to celebrate another significant milestone - Louise's 50th birthday!

"I didn't have a sense of humor about this when I got up this morning," grins Louise, who looks considerably younger than the calendar says she is. "But I'm not shedding any tears over it.

"Because Barbara will always be older ... and guess who's next to turn 50!"

"Ten years from now!" fibs Irlene, who's really about a year-and-a-half younger than the birthday girl.

"Six months younger is what I tell everybody," laughs Louise.

Truly enjoying each other's company, it's obvious the family chemistry that was so appealing on their TV show hasn't diminished through the years.

This marks the first time they've sat down for an interview together since Barbara retired from country music in 1997, after an amazing career full of hits and accolades.

But today Barbara, who's also done some acting through the years, is very happy away from the spotlight, preferring to spend her time gardening, making mosaics and faux painting. Her oldest son, Matthew, is a chef who's also serving as the emcee for his Aunt Louise's shows.

Barbara's daughter, Jaime, is back in college in Nashville after earlier leaving school to pursue an acting career, which included a stint on CBS' As the World Turns. And youngest son Nathan entered the University of Mississippi as a freshman this fall.

So the Mandrell nest is officially empty? "No!" laughs Barbara. "We still have Jaime at home! I told my husband, I don't know if we'll ever have an empty nest."

Louise's 20-year-old daughter, Nicole, is also in college in Nashville, but she's come back to Pigeon Forge for her mom's special day.

And Irlene has three kids. Deric, a drummer like his mom, started college in Nashville this fall and is living at home. Vanessa, a talented singer and dancer, is still in high school, and Christina, 9, has also displayed some of the Mandrell song-and-dance talent.

But tonight's show is all about Louise.

She opened her theater in 1997 and has been wowing audiences in this Smoky Mountain community ever since, with high-energy shows that feature music for all ages, plus big production numbers like the sisters performed on their TV show.

"I promise I'm trying to be very objective here when I'm speaking about my sister," declares Barbara. "They can listen to your recordings, they can listen to the radio. But 'show' means it needs to be visual as well, you know? That's why Louise's show is hugely the most attended in town.

"She's like the Wayne Newton of Pigeon Forge!"

But will all three sisters ever perform together again?

Irlene, who's also done some acting and modeling and been involved with Legends racing, the Nature's Youth line of natural supplements and a variety of other products and events, thinks there's still a chance.

"Barbara says no," grins Irlene, always the jokester of the three. "But Louise was doing a show in Myrtle Beach one time and asked Barbara and me up onstage to say a few words ... and Louise finally had to say, 'Barbara, it's my show!' to get the mic back!"

Louise would love it, too. But Barbara says she has no plans to get back into the spotlight and is even ready - finally - to sell the tour bus she's been hanging on to for years after she retired from the road.

"Barbara doesn't know it," confesses Louise, "but I still have all of her musical [arrangement] charts. And they're taking up space and they're in my way, but I can't part with them. Because I think maybe someday she'll sing again, and I can give these back. She is content with her retiring ... and I'm not. I put them away and said someday she'll use these."

"And if she doesn't," laughs Irlene, "I can always sell them on eBay!"

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