LeAnn Rimes on leaving teen stardom behind: ‘It's taken a lot of destruction on my part’

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Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·12 min read
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 Leann Rimes in 2013. (Photo: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)
Leann Rimes in 2013. (Photo: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

This Saturday, country star LeAnn Rimes will perform a special live-streamed show on StageIt to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the raucous rom-com Coyote Ugly. Rimes sang on the soundtrack’s four Diane Warren-penned cuts, including the smash single “Can’t Fight the Moonlight,” after reaching out to longtime collaborator Warren to express interest in another Warren composition that ended up in the film, “Please Remember.” Rimes was eventually recruited to dub the singing voice for Piper Perabo’s character, Violet Sanford, and even memorably danced on the Coyote Ugly bar in the triumphant final scene (which was reshot to be more of a “banger ending” two months after filming had wrapped). Two decades later, Rimes still occasionally dances on bar-tops, although she jokes that she will probably refrain from such antics during the Aug. 15 StageIt broadcast.

“I am asked by fans to recreate that scene when I’ve been out, and oh yeah, I have definitely recreated it,” Rimes tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume with a chuckle. “It depends on how many drinks I've had, probably. Like, ‘How exciting do I want to be at this time?’ But people will literally play the song and then kind of clear the bar, and that's my invitation. It's kind of unspoken. ... I mean, look, if we're having a good time, I'm always one for dancing at the bar. I'd probably take the bait more often than not.”

While Coyote Ugly was a lighthearted musical romp, looking back, it was part of Rimes’s long and tricky evolution — as she transitioned from goody-goody girl next door (she was only 13 when she broke through with “Blue” and became the youngest Best New Artist winner in Grammy history, and she was 17 when she appeared in Coyote Ugly) to a more grown-up image. Following drawn-out legal battles with her father, manager, and record label, and the brutal tabloid fallout from her extramarital affair with actor Eddie Cibrian (who was also married at the time), Rimes struggled. But around age 30, the now 37-year-old singer started to find peace. After marrying Cibrian amid a massive public backlash in 2011, a year later — right after her 30th birthday — she checked herself in to a facility for a month of treatment for anxiety and depression. When she got out, she finally stopped trying to please everyone else and committed herself to creating her best art, starting with 2013’s raw and confessional Spitfire album.

Now, when Rimes isn’t performing quarantine concerts for StageIt, she’s working on two new albums, including a record of chanting — one of her meditational tools for staying centered. Below, she speaks candidly about finding her own voice, ignoring the haters, growing up in the public eye, working on Coyote Ugly… and how a certain other film, starring fellow former child country singer Taylor Swift, hit almost too close to home.

Yahoo Entertainment: I don’t necessarily recall this, but I'm wondering if at the time, when Coyote Ugly came out, if there was any scandal over the fact that you were only 17 and you were dancing on a bar.

LeAnn Rimes: No, but there would totally be now! There would be so many problems with this movie now, honestly! Yeah, that [movie] that was my introduction to the “bar scene.” I grew up in Texas singing, and my mom was like adamant about keeping me out of bars and not wanting me to sing in bars. So I wasn't frequenting bars, even though at 17 and as a celebrity, I'm sure I could have gotten into them. So yeah, that was kind of my bar introduction, and it was interesting because I was such a kid and usually they really tried to keep me very covered up – I didn’t show boobs and midriff and the whole thing. So that was also my introduction to that, because it was like, “Here's your half-top. Here's some really tight pants. And by the way, here's these chicken cutlets!” They had me put those in my bra to push the boobs up. There was every shade of wrong of that. But it just worked. Hey, it was the year 2000, so it worked.

So OK, there wasn’t worldwide scandal or anything, but your fans were used to a certain image of you that was more clean-cut. So how did they react to seeing you vamp in it up in this sexy movie?

I don't think there was ever a big issue with it. I'm sure some of the parents of my fans were like, “Oh my God, look at her! She's changed!” It's such an interesting world, because once we get a version of someone in our heads, we really don't want see them grow out of that. And that's especially strange when you're a child, because I mean, you're going to grow, you're going to experiment, you're going to play. And [Coyote Ugly] was really me breaking out of [the child-star image] for the first time. So I'm sure there was some gossip about that; I just was never privy to it.

Piper Perabo and LeAnn Rimes in 'Coyote Ugly' in 2000. (Photo: Buena Vista Pictures/Getty Images)
Piper Perabo and LeAnn Rimes in 'Coyote Ugly' in 2000. (Photo: Buena Vista Pictures/Getty Images)

What were your struggles when you were growing in the public eye? How did you navigate that?

Oh, wow. I mean, I don't think it was pretty, by any means. For me especially, there was this very wholesome little girl, this all-American girl, and then I went through a lawsuit with my father at 16 and my record label, and that was like a three-and-a-half-year ordeal. Then I was the “spoiled brat” — I mean, I was labeled so many things. When I think about it now, it's just so crazy how instantly as a society, the expectations we place upon someone. We expect them to be more than human, even as a child. And then especially expect them not to grow. It was definitely the big challenge for me personally, to try to grow out of that mold. It's taken years, and it's taken a lot of destruction on my part, whether that be conscious or unconscious. I think there was a lot of it that was unconscious, like, “I'm going to set fire to this as much as I can, so I can rebuild for the place that I want to rebuild from.”

I think that was a lot of my struggle, up until probably like age 30. I think 30 was finally when I was like, “OK, I'm settling into myself and I'm doing it for me, and I'm not trying to fit this mold for this person and that mold for that person to make everybody happy.” When you start at 11, your whole life is based around trying to please people. And so I think 30 was the first time I stopped. There's still certain places in my life where I see myself still doing that. I'm very aware of it now, so I catch myself and come back to what's true for me.

A lot of what you are saying about people-pleasing reminds me of things Taylor Swift said in her documentary Miss Americana. She started in the business around the same age as you did, and she had a similar epiphany around age 30. Have you seen that film? In the movie she actually talks about how you were her first concert and a big inspiration.

I actually had a panic attack watching it, because I was like, “Holy s***!” I felt like I was being choked, watching it. I'm so glad that she has been able to create art with that experience; that's a beautiful thing. I was not able to, at that time, it being a different time. I felt as I was watching it that my life was being spoken for me in a lot of ways. And so it was beautiful to watch it, but also very, very troubling, because I'm like, “Oh yeah, that's my life reflected back at me right there.”

What is it about the age of 30 that you think was a turning for people like you or Taylor?

That's a really good question. … I think we all change at 30, a little bit. My thirties have been the biggest decade of growth, like truly into my true self. I think you really just start to step into your womanhood in a lot of ways at 30. I think there is a decision of like, “Am I going to continue to do what everybody wants me to do? Or am I going to claim who I am?” There is something that I think 30 is a magical number for that. Specifically 30 for me was I checked myself into a treatment center, actually — a day or two after my 30th birthday. Because I had always had people around me, there was never a time when I wasn't alone. I was so intertwined and meshed with so many people, and I just knew if I didn't start to untangle that web, that this was going to be a really rocky decade. And so that was my own choice, for all the anxiety and depression and everything I was going through at that moment, to seek help. There's nothing like taking your power back at what feels like the bottom. And that year was it for me.

How has that affected your art? Because you mentioned that when you were going through the similar things that Taylor Swift went through, you were unable to turn that into art back then. But how has that experience affected your creative process now that you are in this different space?

Oh God, it's the best ever, to have so much to draw from. I definitely do create art with it. Whatever experience I'm going through at the moment is where my art really comes from. I able to create art from the lowest of lows. I think my first time that I ever learned to do that was the album called Spitfire [in 2013]. My husband, the man who's now my husband that I've been married for almost 10 years, we were both married to other people. I went through an affair and then got married. And during that time I was creating a record, and I created hard from that. I wrote a song called “Borrowed” and Stevie Nicks for my [2018] Re-Imagined EP later did a duet with me — we reimagined that song together. From that song, I actually knew true honesty, no matter what.

My friend and co-writer Darrell Brown always told me that as a songwriter, if you can find that place where you sing from where the truth just has to come out and there's no way around it, if you can write from that space, then you’ve found your writing voice. And to me, that was when I found my writing voice as a creator, was when I told the most blatant truth that I could have ever told and actually found out how I was feeling as I was writing it — through about six hours of tears! From that moment on, I was like, “I can never create from any other place than here.” And so that was kind of my breaking open as a songwriter, to be able to create music that is so painfully honest. From that moment on I've, that's what I've been doing.

How did your fanbase or your audience react to Spitfire and “Borrowed”?

Oh, they were definitely turned off by it. I don't think people know how to take honesty like that. Sometimes even in art, it can be very confronting and very painful for them to listen to, maybe because of their own experience. But I've also had people who were like, “Thank you for writing this song, because I'm going through this experience myself; I've been through this experience that I've never had words for.” I mean, you're always going to find people who understand and people who don't. And that's OK. That's what art is like. Art is not supposed to be for everyone. … And the people that the people that gravitate towards you, the ones that need it, will find you. To me, that's true art. It's not about trying to fit into a box or chase the next hit — which is a different way of thinking than most of our industry thinks! This became about my art, and that was OK. It was OK that people didn't understand, and it was OK that people didn't want to hear the truth. I had to create the truth because it lived inside of me, and if it didn't get it out, I think there would have been an inner explosion that would have been very nasty. So yeah, thank God for art and creativity, even during this time with COVID. I mean, that's the only thing saving me at the moment!

Are you working on new music in lockdown?

Yes, that is what I've been doing during my time. I've been writing a ton, creating a new record right now. I'm also creating a chant album, which has been so beautiful. Speaking of when I turned 30, I think that was starting my evolution on my own spiritual journey. And chanting, meditation, is something I'm into majorly. … Chanting for me, it was basically taking my own voice back for myself. I think I've used it so much for so many other people that I never sang for myself. So chanting was a way to take that piece of me back from me. … And so that will hopefully be out some time in November-ish. And then I'm also working on a new record and will hopefully start dropping some new music the beginning of next year.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

· 'Coyote Ugly' at 20: How the hit movie turned the New York bar into an international franchise

· During the coronavirus crisis, can live-streaming save the music industry?

· Why Diane Warren is the 'Susan Lucci of the Oscars'

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The above interview is taken from a portion of LeAnn Rimes’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of this conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.