There aren't many performers who are a household name at 13 and have won two Grammy Awards before their 15th birthday. In fact, LeAnn Rimes became the youngest country music star in 1996 since Tanya Tucker 24 years earlier. She has long since crossed over into other musical genres, appeared in movies and TV series, and written four books.
Rimes, who is now 32, is also one of the few country-western singers who has spoken out in support of the LGBT community. She performed with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles in 2010 and soon after wrote: "I believe in equality for everyone. I believe everyone should have the right to love and commit to whomever they want. In God's eyes, we are all the same."
Her appearance at White Party Palm Springs on Sunday, April 26th will serve as her latest step in supporting our community. Rimes graciously chatted with me about her life and achievements thus far.
CC: How do you feel to be making your White Party debut? How did it come about?
LR: I am so excited to be a part of this year’s White Party! It is a chance for me to get to sing in front of the most loving crowds I could ever play in front of. I love all my gay fans. How could I say no?
CC: Can you share a sneak peek of your performance with our readers?
LR: I love surprises so you’ll just have to wait and see! I can guarantee though that we’ll be playing some of my older hits, some of my remixes that make you want to get up and dance, and some covers of my favorite artists as well.
CC: You've been a vocal and visible supporter of LGBT equality for several years, for which we thank you. What led or inspired you to become a supporter?
LR: I strongly believe that everyone should have the right to love whomever they choose and that was something I knew very early on in life. I was luckily given a platform at a very young age to try and help promote equality for the LGBT community. The LGBT community has been some of my biggest supporters throughout my career and they are a dedicated fan base!
CC: I assume (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that you were raised in a fairly conservative environment given your upbringing in Mississippi and Texas. Have you encountered any opposition from family or friends given your pro-LGBT stance? If so, how have you dealt with it?
LR: The opposition I have found in my life has had nothing to do with the LGBT community! (Laughs). I spent most of my upbringing on the road so, thankfully, I was able to meet a lot of different people and be exposed to a number of different ways of thinking. It is because of that life that I have been able to be such an avid supporter of the LGBT community. My uncle was gay. He passed away from AIDS when I was young. I was very close to him and feel our relationship drove me to be very vocal about my passion for equality.
CC: I really admire your ability to move easily between country, pop, rock, inspirational and religious songs, and even Broadway show tunes. Have you received any criticism from your early fans for "crossing over" from your country-western roots?
LR: All great artists evolve and challenge themselves throughout their careers and I take pride in finding inspiration from all genres of music. I think it may have been a surprise for some of my earlier fans to see my music on the Top 40 charts but, overall, my fans have been amazing in that they continue to follow me wherever I go!
CC: You have often mentioned Patsy Cline as a musical influence as well as gay faves Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland. Who have been some others? Are there any current performers you particularly like or admire?
LR: I adore Adele. I’m a massive David Gray fan, with whom I just recorded a duet, “Snow In Vegas.” I’m just a fan of great music, an emotional point of view and gut-wrenching performances.
CC: What do you think of the recent trend of gay and lesbian country singers coming out publicly (for example Ty Herndon, Billy Gilman, Chely Wright, Steve Grand and Brandy Clark)? Were you aware any of them were gay before they announced it?
LR: I am so unbelievably proud of anyone who is brave enough to accept their true selves and I am lucky to call so many of these amazing people friends. It is funny to hear that question like I should be shocked when I heard of them ‘coming out’ but, for example, I have been friends with Ty for a number of years and I already knew he was gay! I am just ecstatic that he felt comfortable enough to come out to the masses!
CC: You have released a couple of albums of songs you've found personally inspiring. Are there other, more recent songs in this vein that you one day hope to record?
LR: In a good way, I kind of opened up a can of worms on my last album “Spitfire.” Starting with the album “Family,” I began to really open up my soul as a songwriter with songs like “What I Cannot Change” and “Family.” With “Spitfire,” I went so much further with the gut-wrenching honesty. Life happened and I think I had two choices, bare it all or hide it. There was no hiding it for me. I wear everything on my sleeve, so I would have been beyond lying if I didn’t let myself just go there. Writing a song like “Borrowed” changed my life. It forever changed the way I approach songwriting. Everything that comes out of me now as an artist is authentic and as honest as you can get. It’s a beautiful, cathartic place to write and live from.
CC: This past Christmas, you released the first part of an intended three-part holiday EP. How are those coming along? What are some of the songs you plan to include in future installments?
LR: We just started recording the new Christmas record. Christmas in March is a bit strange. (laughs) There are a few original songs I have co-written and some classics too. I love to mess with the arrangements a bit and make them mine. I’m collaborating with a couple of great artists too. You’ll have to wait a bit longer for me to reveal anything else, but it’s going to be great.
CC: Like most artists today, it seems, you've had your share of professional and personal controversies in the past. Is there anything that has proven particularly helpful to you in navigating those that could benefit other artists or people in general?
LR: Don’t read any comment section of any website/social media feed ever! (Laughs) I think it is important to be confident in and proud of who you are, and to remember that a lot of the negativity that can surround you doesn’t have anything to do with you. It is about the person at the other end of the hate. I try and remember that every time someone says or writes something that may hurt my feelings. Maybe these people are going through something in their lives personally and you are just an easy target. It helps to put these types of comments in perspective.
CC: In closing, is there anything special you would like to say to your LGBT fans or want them to know?
LR: Just that I am so thankful for your continued love and support and if you are able to make it to the White Party on Sunday I cannot wait to give you one hell of a good show!
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.