CALIFORNIA ANGEL

Going from Nashville baby to L.A. lady and back, LeAnn Rimes celebrates her one-year wedding anniversary and explores her grown-up options

The sun is beaming in Los Angeles this morning, and so is LeAnn Rimes.

Wearing designer jeans and a floral print blouse, she looks at home here on world-famous Rodeo Drive. And why not? She's lived in the City of Angels for the past four years. But time is running out for LeAnn to soak up the West Coast sun before a planned move back to Nashville, and she's making the most of it.

Joining LeAnn is husband Dean Sheremet, with whom she's just celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary. "Married life is wonderful," she says. "Life is much happier now."

"We passed the one-year mark, which is like 12 years in L.A.!" jokes Dean. "It's like dog years or something." Dean probably knows a thing or two about dogs -- he and LeAnn share their home with six of them. But will they ever share that house with babies?

"Not anytime soon," LeAnn smiles. "One day."

"One day," echoes Dean.

LeAnn stands close beside her husband, and Dean keeps a reassuring hand on her back. As they hold hands, LeAnn's fingers are tightly intertwined with Dean's. After several storms of much-publicized professional and personal turmoil, newlywed LeAnn is now the picture of peace.

She seems far removed from the nasty disputes that grabbed headlines over the past few years: legal struggles with her record label, father Wilbur and former trainer and bodyguard Robert Lavetta.

As it turns out, becoming a star at 13 has its disadvantages, especially when a significant portion of your youth is taken up with non-teenage activities like recording, touring and dealing with business affairs. LeAnn has a tip for young singers who are on the fast track to stardom: "Take time for yourself and be a kid, and enjoy that part of your life, also."

Looking back, LeAnn is philosophical about the highs and lows she was forced to cope with at such a young age. "It's all a very personal thing," she says. "For me, it was an interesting ride, and a whirlwind of success."

But the past couple of years have been calmer, quieter and happier. "I've been able to take some time off and really learn who I am," she says, "and become an adult and grow up out of the limelight."

With her battles behind her, 20-year-old LeAnn is fully asserting her independence as an adult. The proof is on her latest album, Twisted Angel, which has much more in common with the dance beats of Mariah Carey than the twang of Patsy Cline. LeAnn feels that Angel is the first disc to fully reflect her artistic vision.

"I had to grow," she says. "I was a child, so I really didn't know a lot about myself or what I wanted to do. Now, as an adult, I've grown into my own. I really think I've found my own style, and that comes across on this record."

And, according to LeAnn, whether that style is considered pop, rock or country makes no difference. "I'm just going to make good music, and whoever wants to play it can play it," she declares with a confident smile. "I have to be true to myself as an artist and make good music. That's really what I've done for the past seven years, and it's seemed to work, so I'm just going to keep it up. Hopefully, people will catch on and like it."

After a planned summer tour, the next musical curveball listeners can expect from LeAnn will be a snowball -- she's currently recording a Christmas album. "We've decorated the studio, so we're trying to get in the spirit," she chuckles. "We have a little reindeer that moves its head up and down!"

No matter what the musical category of future LeAnn Rimes albums, she declares she'll always treasure country music.

"It really talks about your life," she says, "and I think in the times that we're in, people really want to hear good music they can relate to."

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