A QUESTION OF BALANCE

It's been a hectic day already, and it's only midafternoon. LeAnn Rimes - looking trim, dressed casually - takes a break to grab a salad topped with chicken at a swanky Beverly Hills hotel. She's soon joined by husband Dean Sheremet, whose tank top and athletic shorts reveal a muscular frame.

LeAnn abandons her salad halfway through. As Dean happily finishes it off, LeAnn asks him to place a business call on her behalf. This, she swears, is very unusual.

"He pretty much stays out of my business," she reports. "Which is good. We have our personal life, and he's there for me - but not to handle things that I hire people to handle."

Still, it's clear from his half of the conversation that Dean is up on what's going on with LeAnn - and there's plenty! She's got a new Greatest Hits album, a new single ("This Love"), a Dr. Pepper commercial with Reba McEntire - and there's even talk of a TV sitcom. Not to mention that the couple just sold their house in the Hollywood Hills for $2.5 million and moved to the Forest Hills section of Nashville, just south of downtown.

Dean is outgoing and talkative, a nice match for quiet, cautious LeAnn. "He's definitely played a role in my happiness - a big role, obviously," she smiles. The pair wed two years ago, at the end of a week in which she also reconciled with her estranged dad, Wilbur Rimes. The peace between the formerly feuding father and daughter is still holding strong.

"Things have come full circle," she ponders. "You would never have known anything happened."

Of course, a whole lot has happened for LeAnn. She blasted onto the national scene at 13 with her debut hit, "Blue," and it's been a whirlwind ever since - she's made eight albums, written two books and performed for the Queen of England and the Pope.

While other kids her age were going to parties and sleeping late on Saturdays, LeAnn was recording, touring relentlessly and being hounded by photographers. Everywhere she turned, she found another adult making another demand on her.

"My dad always told me, 'Don't let anyone run over you. Always stand up for what you believe in,' " she recalls. "When I turned 16, that's exactly what I did. I said, 'I am done with you people. I'm not gonna let you push me to do things anymore. I'm tired. I've been doing this for a long time, and I need some time to myself.' "

Taking control meant suing the man who had told her to always stick up for herself: Wilbur, who was also her manager and record producer. "I've been through so much pain," she reflects. "It's not forgotten, but it's all forgiven."

In fact, LeAnn and her parents are all on good terms these days. Wilbur gave her a horse for her 21st birthday, and the two of them go riding together sometimes. Her mom, Belinda, has moved from Los Angeles to Nashville to be near her, and she and Wilbur are on speaking terms again after splitting in 1997. "I'm glad my parents were divorced," says LeAnn. "They're actually friends now."

When it comes to her own life, marriage has been key to her recent happiness and stability. According to LeAnn, her bond with Dean is built on their similar personalities, and the way they relate as people.

"I think he sees me completely differently than how the world sees me," she says. "When I met him, it was not as 'LeAnn Rimes' - it was just as a normal person, and that's how our relationship has stayed."

LeAnn is well aware that Dean, a dancer, has put his own dreams on the back burner since marrying her - and she is grateful.

"He has sacrificed a lot of things to be with me and to help me," she marvels. "He's an amazing person. A lot of people would be jealous or have weird feelings about it, and think the man always has to be more successful than the woman. After two years of marriage and nearly three years of being together, we haven't gone through that, and I don't think we will."

The give-and-take in her marriage is only one way that LeAnn Rimes has, after many unsteady years, finally found balance. As she and Dean ponder the future - they're thinking of starting a family, she reports - she intends to keep that balance.

"I'm always gonna be a public person, and always sing, and always do what I love to do," she explains. "It might be that I just pick and choose what I do, and enjoy family life also."

-- Story by Tom Roland

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