'Lady and Gentlemen' may accomplish just that. That's the title of LeAnn's brand-new album, out today (Sept. 27), mostly comprised of tunes originally recorded by men -- some of the greatest men in country music history, including George Jones, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson -- to whom she has looked up throughout her own 15-year career. The cover songs span from the 1946 classic, 'Sixteen Tons,' to 1989's 'When I Call Your Name,' by the project's co-producer, Vince Gill. LeAnn also reflects her own personality with two very different original tracks: the sassy, clever 'Crazy Women,' and the thought-provoking 'Give.'
The Boot chats with LeAnn about finding courage to put her own spin on some of the most beloved country songs of all time. The svelte star also gets very candid with us about her annoyance with the tabloids shifting from her philandering to her physique. And we get to the bottom of all those 'Playboy' rumors.
Are you hoping to give your younger fans somewhat of a country music history lesson with 'Lady and Gentlemen'?
I hope so! If this kind of country music was still played, this is all I would do. I love all different kinds of country music, but there's something about these songs and these men, they were fearless when it came to writing about what they were living. That can almost be a negative thing these days, when you're writing about your life, which is so crazy to me. What I love so much is the honesty and the simplicity of the songs. That's not around anymore.
I find myself wanting to write this kind of music and maybe making a record that's similar to the style, but my own material. Maybe we're bringing it back! There's a huge misconception about me, because of the crossover hits that I've had ... but this is where my heart lies and always has.
I love him and have a huge respect for him. I could sit and listen to him sing and play guitar for hours. He's such a genius. He always wanted to make sure that my vision came through on this record, unlike a lot of producers do. A lot of them think you're the artist, but it's their record to do. But Vince made sure I have everything that I wanted in this album. I called it the 'Open Mic Room' -- everybody had a say. We didn't have anything but fun in that room. I didn't so much learn from Vince as I did truly enjoy working with someone that I grew up listening to my whole life and have respected for so long.
What's the magic recipe for making these songs your own without disrespecting the original?
I was worrying about it being too bland. We didn't want to make a karaoke record, which is what it would've been if we'd just stuck to the original. I was pushed to go the opposite direction. We had certain little nuances, things people might not even notice. With 'He Stopped Loving Her Today,' we kept pretty much close to the original, but there's flamenco guitar and a [guitar] solo where there wasn't a solo in the original, and there's no modulation in the song, whereas there was in the original. It made it a little more modern. Although some songs, like 'Swingin',' we took and almost re-wrote! [laughs] Thank God John Anderson said he loved it! Everybody that's heard the record -- George [Jones], Merle [Haggard] and all these greats -- have actually listened to the whole record, not just their own songs, and put their stamp of approval on it.
The secret was going in without fear. I didn't have any fear of screwing it up. [laughs] I had a fear of not doing enough. This is really about wanting to bring it to a new generation of fans and also taking these songs and almost looking at them like they're my songs, fitting them to work for a woman while keeping the original in mind, not straying too far from it. People have said, "This is such a ballsy move." But I never thought of it that way. I thought it would just be a lot of fun ... and be like a "thank you" to the great artists who wrote these honest songs that I grew up on and have shaped my artistry into what it is today.
'Give,' has such a powerful message in both its lyrics and accompanying music video. [Watch it below.] What do you hope fans will take away from 'Give,' as far as their actions or even just their thoughts?
I hope it inspires. The video, working with the homeless kids, was something that has changed my life. What it reminded me was that we're here on this earth to give back to one another. It's not with money, it's with love, compassion, understanding and a helping hand. Just to listen to someone -- that's what we all are craving in this life. People forget that. They think, "Oh, I can give $2 and I've done my share ... " It's not about the money, it's about the time we put into each other, not just in our relationships, but the time we put in to strangers.
It's amazing to hear these kids say that no one looks them in the eye and smiles. There's a misconception that the homeless are going to hurt them or ask for money. There's no harm from looking someone in the eye and smiling, no matter if you're the richest person or the poorest person. It just changed my perception of how the homeless live and what they go through. They have these aspirations to be chefs and actresses ... Their poetry and art that they showed me was incredible. They're talented kids with dreams.
Is it your hope that this album reminds people why you're famous in the first place: for being a multi-platinum-selling singer? That maybe this album will overshadow all the tabloid gossip?
Yeah, that would be my hope for the future! I can look back and laugh at it now. I've learned from my mistakes and have a great life. I am really happy. I grew up as this squeaky clean little girl ... You go through hiccups in your life where you make choices that are not necessarily the right ones, and everyone sees it. It became so obsessive because everyone thought they had me pegged, that I could never do anything wrong. But I'm human! I understand the obsession, but I don't agree with it. It's way over. Time to move on. But now that I'm a tabloid staple -- with my weight or what I wore -- it's insane to me, but hopefully this [album] will remind people of what I do best. I love music, and it's time to get on with that and acting and things that I have the talent for. I'm not trying to get my 15 minutes of fame by being a celebrity in a tabloid magazine.
Like you said, you are human. So how do you guard your feelings with all of the criticism, especially recently with people saying you are too thin?
The great thing is that I know how healthy I am. I know that I'm smart about it. I was called "fat" when I was 15 and 16. My mom and dad went through a divorce and I went through a lawsuit with my dad and record label. I was probably ten pounds heavier than I should've been. Then I went through a divorce and was ten pounds heavier than I normally was then, too, because I couldn't get out of bed. But no one sees that side of things. Then you get healthy ... I weigh probably the same as I weighed when I was on the cover of Shape [magazine] for the first time, back when I was 21. I am the same as I was, but people forget. They don't see the other side of it, where we've gone through unhealthy moments because of depression or sadness. People handle it different ways.
Now I'm healthy and happy. People think I'm obsessed with workouts, but my workouts lately have been walking through airports in high heels! [laughs] I've seen a gym twice in the last two-and-a-half weeks. And if people saw how much food I put down, I think they'd hate me more. [laughs] People say, "She tweets everything she eats." But I honestly ate it. I'm one of those people who, when I eat something sweet, I take two or three bites and then I'm satisfied. Then I'll go eat healthy stuff. I don't ever deprive myself of anything.
You do tweet a lot about your health, and you've taken a lot of your critics to task -- including a lot of celebrity reporters. Why do you feel the need to respond to them?
The media has taken such an irresponsible approach for calling people names -- those names being anorexic, bulimic. Those are real diseases, they're not names. If you thought someone was fat, you'd still never walk up to them and go, "Oh my gosh, don't eat that!" So why is it socially acceptable to go up to someone and say, "You need to eat!"? I've had so many people tweet me or come up to me and say, "I get this all the time: I'm underweight and people come up and tell me I need to eat, but I have cancer!" Who has a right to tell someone that? That angers me, not for me, but for people who are actually going through these issues. I'm a celebrity but I'm human, so it hurts. But I can deal with it. Going up to a person and having the audacity to put them down is just mind-blowing. The tabloids and blogs -- with people hiding behind a computer, they feel they can say these horrible things without any repercussions. It's very sad.
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[laughs] No, no, no! But he's so cute; he'll watch me from the side of the stage and tell me what he likes. I've caught him listening to this album many times! The other night, I was gone and he was in Chicago and had [my version of Merle Haggard's] 'The Bottle Let Me Down' on, and he sent me a video on his cell phone, saying, "I'm listening again!" We're super proud of each other's work. We watched the movie 'Reel Love,' which I did with Burt Reynolds, the other day. I almost wanted to watch it [alone] before I let him watch it, since that is his forte. I'm looking at him while we're watching, like, "Are you cringing yet? Am I doing OK?" [laughs] He gave his stamp of approval. We look to each other for honest opinions.
None of your acting roles have involved singing. Will that change with this guest-starring role they're talking about for you on Eddie's new show, 'The Playboy Club'?
They have definitely wanted me to sing. Being set in that era [the 1960s], their music numbers are very cool. They're having artists come on to play other artists from that era. But to further my acting career, if I'm going to go on a show I definitely want it to be more of an acting role than a singing role. I wanted to establish myself as an actress first, and if music comes along with that eventually, fine. They ['The Playboy Club' producers] are taking their time to see how I'm going to fly into that storyline, so we'll see what happens!