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In a revealing, exclusive interview, a renewed Faith Hill tells why she's all smiles these days

Story by Wendy Newcomer

As a child, Faith Hill listened to the songs of her idol, Reba McEntire, and dreamed of the big time. But she also worshiped the music of another diva - the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

On Faith's new album, Cry, she indeed channels Aretha, cutting loose with emotional songs that capture the down-home soul of her live shows.

"I've finally been able to find a way to record what I do live and translate it to an album," says a satisfied Faith, who's in L.A. taking a break from taping her upcoming NBC TV special. "I'm so happy. The music that I grew up with has always been in me. Now I've been able to find the material that allows me to sing it."

Immediately after recording the multiplatinum album Breathe, Faith began looking for songs for Cry. She listened to several thousand tunes.

"I put the word out that there were no limits on songs," she says. "I said, 'If you think something is going too far, send it. If you think something's not far enough, send it.' I wanted everyone to understand I was OK with singing about anything."

And that included heartbreak. "I do have a great love story in my life," admits Faith of her six-year marriage to superstar Tim McGraw, "but the most enjoyable songs to sing are those with drama or sadness. They take you to another place.

"There's a song on the album called 'One,'" she explains, "written by Bekka Bramlett, Billy Burnette and Annie Roboff. It's got funk and soul. I wanted to say something about a love story that wasn't so positive.

"It's kind of boring," she adds with a chuckle, "to hear 'skippity doo-dah, la-la, love is good' all the time, 'everything's perfect!' Life isn't that way - and these songs represent that."

Faith's new single, "Cry," is another sad song that looks at the end of a relationship. But Faith saves her own tears for other things.

"I cry when one of my girls falls and scratches her leg or something," she confides. "I cry when I see a family on television that's happy. To see someone who's lost. To see a child who doesn't have a home or is sick or has been taken away from their family for some inhumane reason. To see any kind of hurt to animals. I cry over a lot of things, but happy things, too. I'm a very emotional person."

With a heavy schedule and three daughters to take care of, Faith has learned how to balance her emotions in the sharp glare of the public eye. She does admit to a secret weapon, though.

"I've got an incredibly supportive husband," she notes, "and I do lean on Tim a lot. But some things you just have to go through yourself, especially as a woman. Silly, crazy things - like 'I hate the way I look,' or 'No matter what I do, I'm just not happy with myself.' That kind of PMS stuff."

It's hard to believe that this Cover Girl has issues with her looks. But Faith says it's true.

"Absolutely," she emphasizes. "I go through all of those things, just like everybody else. There are quirky little things about myself that I absolutely hate."

Such as?

Find out this and more in the current (10/29/02) "Newsstand Issue on sale now.