ONE DAY CLOSER

Carolyn Dawn Johnson readies her return -- and her wedding!

I'm saying forever!" shouts Carolyn Dawn Johnson. You'll have to forgive the volume - whenever Carolyn talks about her upcoming wedding, she lets loose with an occasional squeal of delight like this one.

Yep, Carolyn's boyfriend-turned-fiance, Nashville businessman Matt Fisher, has popped the question - and the answer was a definite yes. Not that the proposal was a total surprise.

"It was a sweet moment," she recalls. "Did I expect it? No. But did I know I was gonna marry him? Yes - I just didn't exactly know when.

"I definitely gave him some hints that I was ready, like 'Wow, I'll be touring again this year, so if we get married ...' " she laughs. "I guess I was hinting a little more than I thought!"

Now the couple is looking forward to a modest spring ceremony, probably in her home country, Canada. "I really do just want to have a small wedding," she reveals. "I want it to be a celebration of Matt and I getting married, and I want to do it really intimately, with family and friends."

Beyond that, they're still not too far along in the planning process. "It seems like every night when I get home, all I can think about is trying to organize the wedding, and I really don't know the first thing about planning it," she says with a chuckle. "I always thought it was crazy when people said planning a wedding is so much work - and now I know, because I can't really seem to get started.

"The biggest decisions are the ones I'm having the hardest time making, and I can't do anything else until those decisions are made: how big or small, how many people," she sighs. "We'll see what happens. I've gotta get it done sometime before tour season starts, otherwise I'll have to wait 'til the end of next year again. And I don't wanna wait that long!"

Complicating matters is the fact that Carolyn is in the thick of preparing her new CD, the follow-up to 2001's Top 10 hit album, Room With A View. As she speaks, she's taking a break at the recording studio while her friends have gone to fetch lunch.

"It's pretty exciting to be making new music," she says. While some of the songs she's recording reflect her current romantic bliss, they're not all flowers and sunshine.

Take "Squeezin' The Love Outta You," a song she wrote five years ago that was first cut by a duo called Redmon & Vale on their self-titled 1999 album. "That's not a very happy song," says Carolyn. "It's like, 'I am tired of squeezing the love out of you! If it's gonna be this hard, just forget it!' So that's a sassy song.

"There's going to be some bittersweetness - and definitely some happiness - on the album. I try to incorporate different subject matter, and things that mean something to me that other people might be able to relate to as well."

Carolyn is well aware that listeners have high expectations for her new music - and she hopes to meet and exceed them. "Now that I'm moving to the second record, I want it to feel like I've grown," she says. "I want it to be a natural progression, and I want it to be different from the first one - but it's still gotta be me."

In fact, Carolyn is so wrapped up in record-making that she's debating whether to hire a wedding planner to take care of the nuts and bolts of the ceremony. "I want to have some of that energy for making the new record and enjoying the engagement," she laughs. "Rather than stressing out on my poor fiance and hearing him say, 'Just do whatever, and we'll deal with the obstacles later! Book something!' "

Matt is actually enjoying being engaged just as much as his fiancee. "I've been on edge every once in a while, and he's been really sweet and supportive," she reports.

Also handling the engagement well are Carolyn's fans. "I can't tell you how many cards and gifts I've gotten for me and Matt," she says. "They know I'm not gonna abandon them just because I'm getting married, and that's probably why they've been really supportive. Of course, there's the occasional guy fan who's like, 'I thought you would wait for me!' "

Carolyn was a little nervous about how her fans would accept Matt, but they took to him right away. "Some of them have met him out on the road, and they always thought he was so sweet," she says. "He's a very kind person, so he treats everybody really well, and the support has been amazing."

For that matter, she was unsure how anyone involved in her career would take the news that she's getting hitched. "I remember when I got engaged, thinking, 'How do I tell my label? How do I tell the rest of the world? Is it OK that I want to be married?' " she admits. "It took me so many years to be comfortable even wanting to be married. I knew I did someday, but I've never felt this way before!

"It just felt like it was gonna take this total curve from the path I've been on. So it was like, 'In this career, am I allowed to do it?' And then I thought, 'Of course I am - look at how many other stars are married.' "

Soon she will join their ranks. But for the moment, Carolyn Dawn is a young woman reveling in the bloom of love and the joy of creating music.

Suddenly, her friends burst back into the studio. "My food just showed up!" she announces. Time for a well-earned lunch, and then Carolyn will get back to the business of building her future, song by song.

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