CW Exclusive: Chely Wright Comes Out
By now you’ve heard the news: country star Chely Wright is gay. It's not news to Chely, of course. She's known since she was in third grade. But it is news to country fans, many of whom believed the "Single White Female" singer wasn't married because she had just never met the right guy.
Chely revealed her "truth," as she calls it, in her autobiography, Like Me, which came out May 4. "I couldn't live the way I was living anymore," she tells Country Weekly in an exclusive interview.
The book is a revealing and painful reliving of Chely's life. In the very first pages she reveals that just over four years ago, in January 2006, she almost committed suicide, going as far as putting a 9 mm handgun in her mouth. It was that moment, and interestingly the flood of songs that came pouring out of her, that prompted her to write a book and come out publicly. "I wanted to tell my entire story. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time running around defending my truth. I realized I was uniquely positioned to change 1 or 2 or 10 or 10,000 hearts and minds. I am uniquely positioned within the country music community."
The decision about whether or not to come out is something Chely has wrestled with for years, she admits. "There are times in my career where I’ve thought about accepting an award or going out and presenting an award and saying, 'I'm Chely Wright and I'm gay,'" she says now. "I was so tired of keeping that secret." What stopped her? "The more success you have, then all of a sudden you've got 25 people working for you, they've got kids in private school, you've got all this responsibility, you're having fun, you're doing your dream job, you're trapped. I had trapped myself."
Now that she's out, Chely feels a weight has been lifted. On the Today show this morning, Chely told interviewer Natalie Morales, "It feels incredible. It feels as if it's my birthday."
That said, Chely is aware that country music fans might not embrace her way of life. "I spent a lifetime trying to imagine how they would respond and I've stopped trying to imagine what other people will say," she says. "I can't do it. I can't spend my emotions on it.
"I hope the parts of me that they knew—and by all measure, they said that they already liked me, they voted me country artist with the biggest heart and I'm their Kansan of the year, and they've already bought my records and said they like my shows and think I'm a heck of a gal, I guess," she continues. "I hope they know I'm still that girl that came from Kansas that wanted to be on the Opry, write songs, make records and sing songs.
I'm the gal that went to support the troops and I'm genuine in my support of them," she adds. "They should know that this is a part of me that's always existed and I’m still the same person."
On June 8, Chely will hold her Reading, Writing & Rhythm charity concert and silent auction in Nashville to coincide with the Country Music Association’s annual musical festival. When Country Weekly spoke to Chely she said she's concerned about how her admission will affect the charity event. "Do you have any doubt that I will be sick to my stomach and scared? I'm scared to death. It's a huge source of anxiety for me," she says. "I'm really proud of our charity. I'm very proud of the great work that the country fans and that the artists that have participated have been able to do for Reading, Writing & Rhythm. We’ve been able to raise over a million dollars for public school kids and music programs.
I have a lot of fear that we won't be supported anymore. I have a lot of fear that artists will cancel. I don't know if the artists that are booked will say, 'Sorry, we have to cancel.' I hope they don't, but if they do, we'll deal with it. I'm nervous about it. One month and four days after I come out of the closet as country music's first openly homosexual artist . . . " Her voice trails off for a moment. "I'm scared to death, yes."
She hopes country radio and country fans will play her new music—she released a new album, Lifted off the Ground, on the same day she released her memoir—but she knows she might meet resistance. "I don't not want to be embraced by country radio," she says. "I have some amazing relationships with country radio folks and I have an amazing relationship with country fans. I have been blessed. I hope that they don't send me packin'."
If they do? "I won't stop making music," she says passionately. "I don't know where I'll land—I don’t know who will buy my records, if anybody—but I'm more excited about music than I've ever been. I feel like a whole person and that's something I've never felt before.
"I hope the fans don't call in and say, 'Don't play the record by the gay girl,'" she continues. "They might, and I'm OK with it, but I have a responsibility. I'm a christian—although I don’t belong to any organized religion—God has been a big part of my life. I know why I didn't pull the trigger that night and I know the things that crossed my mind, and music was one of them and my faith was the other," she adds. "I have to tell my truth and if that makes me not welcome in country music, I have to be OK with that. I don't know how, but I know I will be OK."
"What do people love about country artists? They're so honest and real," Chely says, answering her own question with the response she's heard from fans for years. "That’s what people always say. Well, this is honestly and really me."
For more of Chely's story, pick up the May 24 issue of Country Weekly, on stands May 17.