Star puts spice into country

As a child, LeAnn Rimes sang very adult songs
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The Independent Online
SHE can't vote, drink or have sex without breaking the law, but LeAnn Rimes can sing. And make money - last year the 15-year-old country music star earned $96.3m (pounds 58.7m) from record sales.

She came second in a list of the 10 highest-grossing musical acts in America, just behind the Rolling Stones but way ahead of U2 and the Spice Girls. This teenage phenomenon has been virtually unknown in the UK until today, when her song "How Do I Live" is expected to enter the singles chart in the top five.

It is already the biggest-selling country single in American history. Attempts to promote the song with an appearance on the BBC's National Lottery Live programme were thwarted by her age - her 16th birthday is not until late August, and it is illegal to associate gambling with minors.

Rimes was the first country singer to win a Grammy award as best new artist, and is so much of a star in the US that she has already released The Early Years, an album of material recorded at the age of 12. Pictured on the cover looking like a middle-aged divorcee in denim, she sings "I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart" and the self-penned "Share My Love".

ABC recently gave Rimes the starring role in a television movie based on a novel she had written about a teenage singer. It was semi-autobiographical - her real life story is the sort Disney would reject as too sentimental.

She was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1982, the only child of Wilbur and Belinda Rimes, two former high-school sweethearts who had been trying to have a baby for 12 years. He sold equipment for an oil company in Dallas, and she was a receptionist.

At the age of six, LeAnn entered a talent contest and won, before announcing to her parents that she would be a singing star one day. It didn't take too long - even before her teens she was a regular performer at a country music revue in Texas, leaving her toys in the dressing room to don the clothes and make-up of an adult country star.

In his candid book about country music, Three Chords and the Truth, Laurence Leamer describes how LeAnn sang and dressed far beyond her years "wearing lipstick and blush, tight-fitting little dresses, and adult hairstyles". She had little choice but to sing adult songs, "belting out lyrics from movies she would not have been allowed to attend".

Worried by the threat of bullying, Belinda arranged for her daughter to finish her education at home. By now she was selling thousands of home- produced records in Dallas, and attracting the attention of mainstream record companies.

MCA offered a deal, but it was Mike Curb, chairman of his own independent Nashville record company, who made the right approach. Curb had already been associated with hits by the teenage Marie and Donnie Osmond and their nine-year-old brother, Jimmy.

Instead of arriving at the Rimes home with a battalion of record company executives, Curb took his own two teenage daughters, and won LeAnn's signature by impressing her parents as a religious family man. He even agreed that Wilbur could continue to manage his daughter and produce her records.

Their first single for Curb was "Blue", a song written 30 years earlier for Patsy Cline, who died in a plane crash before she could record it. One radio listener complained that it sounded like Cline yodelling from the grave, but the record sold 100,000 copies on its first day in the shops.

Despite the concerns of her mother, LeAnn was marketed in a very adult way, according to Laurence Leamer. "She had the body of a 20-year-old, displayed in form-fitting clothes.

"The promotional video had her decked out like a country Lolita, in suggestive poses and heavy make-up."