As Chely Wright admits she is gay, Hollywood media turn coming out into another career opportunity
But now, such admissions can be planned carefully as some celebrities' wedding or birth announcements, with a carefully crafted publicity rollout timed to coincide with career opportunities.
Country singer Chely Wright is the latest to take that tack, coming out as lesbian in a People.com article just in time to help promote a new album Lifted Off the Ground and book Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer.
Not to discount any struggles Wright may have experienced. The singer reportedly told Access Hollywood she contemplated suicide in 2006, after "living a lie" while trying to keep up a facade of heterosexuality, even dating fellow star Brad Paisley -- who she says didn't know she was gay.
But the web site Queerty.com has taken credit for revealing Wright's plans days early, puncturing early chatter that the big star planning to come out this week was country singer Shelby Lynne. If the site is correct, Wright has appearances on the Today show and The View also planned.
And just as when pop singer Ricky Martin came out, Wright's move gains more attention because she's working in a culture presumed to be less tolerant of open homosexuals. In Martin's case, it's the macho culture of Latin America; in Wright's case, it's the sometimes-conservative culture of country music.
Initial press accounts call Wright the only openly homosexual country star. Still, I didn't sense a lot of shock or concern for Martin in America when he disclosed his sexuality in March -- many more bloggers and columnists groused that he was trying to revive his seemingly dormant performing career (indeed, View co-host Barbara Walters took credit for killing his career by pressing him on the question of his sexual orientation ten years ago).
Wright is particularly vulnerable to such charges with products attached to her name hitting stores within days of her revelations. Lifted will be her first non-compilation album in five years, benefitting tremendously from whatever pulbicity this disclosure will generate.
Her biggest risk -- that hardcore country fans will reject her for her sexuality while others who might be sympathetic might reject her for looking like an opportunist.
Whenever I see a public figure come out, I'm reminded of an interview many years ago with out and proud singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, who noted that some celebrities who seem obviously gay may not come out because of a relative who doesn't know or something personal beyond any career concerns.
In a way, it's a sign of progress that coming out can be seen as a career-making move.
Beats the days when Barbara Walters could cap a star's career just by asking them about being gay a few too many times.