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Q&A with LeAnn Rimes before show Friday at Ruth Eckerd

By Jay Cridlin

Times Staff Writer

Back in 1997, when 14-year-old country prodigy LeAnn Rimes became the youngest person ever to win a Grammy, who could have known that one day she'd be forced to remind the world that she can actually … y'know … sing?

But it's 2012, and Rimes is no longer that chimpmunk-cheeked yodeler of yesteryear. These days, many know her first as a tabloid fixture famous for lawsuits, bikinis and — most salacious of all — her relationship with now-husband Eddie Cibrian, which began when the actor was married to another woman. In late August, she checked into rehab for "anxiety and stress," and last month, she had to cancel shows after undergoing emergency treatment for a dental infection.

"When I signed up when I was younger, it was all about singing, all about music, and that's what it's all about to me today," Rimes, 30, said by phone. "If all the rest could go away, and I could just make music, it would be nice. But that's not the world I live in at this moment. Maybe eventually it'll come back to that one day. I'm hoping that I'm doing it with this record: 'Hello? Over here? I sing, remember?' "

This record is Spitfire, Rimes' forthcoming studio album, which she co-wrote. She'll preview songs from Spitfire on her new tour, which hits Ruth Eckerd Hall on Friday, as well as '90s hits like How Do I Live and Blue, and selections from Lady & Gentlemen, her recent collection of classic country songs originally performed by men.

Calling from her L.A. home, Rimes talked about artistic honesty and the price of fame.

The press release I got said that Spitfire was your "most personal album yet." What does that mean?

Well, I started out as a child, and I've gone through everything in front of the public, up and down, and my life has been quite an interesting ride the last four years. I've felt like I maybe had a piece of tape over my mouth in a lot of ways. I think it's all coming out through my music, which is great. I have a lot to write about. There's nothing that I can't say at this moment in time.

Do you feel an obligation as an artist to be an open book to your fans? Or is that just something you've realized over the past 16, 17 years — that you need to be open in your life in general?

I think it's my life in general. Growing up in the country music industry — and especially as a kid, back in the '90s — I was always told I couldn't have an opinion. ... It becomes this weird world of a child star trying to please everyone.

This album has been exploring who I am, and who I am is honest. I think everyone has kind of laid my life out for me in the last four years, in the way that they would like to see it happen, or the way that they think it's happened. This is my truth. It comes from my heart and soul.

Blue was your breakthrough hit, and it was already a very classic-sounding song. Then you rerecorded it for Lady & Gentlemen. How does the new version reflect your own feelings about that song over the past 16 years?

It's the one song, I have to say, that is timeless. I haven't gotten sick of that song, believe it or not. It's taken on a new meaning for me every time life changes. I truly know what it's about now, and I didn't when I was singing it. There's a song on Spitfire called I Do Now, which came out of a conversation about exactly that — me really not understanding what I was singing when I was 13. ... The new version, to me, is more classic than the original. It's more of that classic country sound that I love so much, that Texas swing that I grew up on.

You've been in the spotlight for two-thirds of your life. From the beginning to now, how has what it means to be famous changed?

Oh, my God. It's changed tremendously. The world when I was 13 wasn't truly driven by tabloid magazines and social media and reality shows. I was able to have a little more of a private life. I live in L.A. now. I have two wonderful stepboys and my husband, and I'm here, and it's part of my life. But it's also a part that I don't really wish on anybody. (laughs)

. if you go

LeAnn Rimes

The singer performs at 8 p.m. Friday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. $45-$75. (727) 791-7400 or rutheckerdhall.com.

Q&A with LeAnn Rimes before show Friday at Ruth Eckerd 11/07/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 3:30am]

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