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Thirteen-year-old singer is starting out at the top

A 13-year-old from Garland, Texas, lassoed the music world Thursday.

LeAnn Rimes, country music's newest singing sensation, saw her first major-label album, Blue, debut at No. 1 on Billboard's country chart. Even more surprising, Blue enters the pop albums chart at No. 4 after selling a whopping 124,000 copies its first week in stores.

That could make Blue the biggest debut by a new country artist ever. Billboard reports that it's definitely the biggest since May 1991, when SoundScan began monitoring record sales.

Billy Ray Cyrus' first album, 1992's Some Gave All, sold 90,000 copies in its first week. Even Wynonna, who made her name with mom Naomi in The Judds, sold a mere 121,000 copies of her self-titled solo debut in week one that year.

"It's really cool, I still can't believe it's happening," Rimes said Thursday from a tour stop in Kansas City. "I can't get over this. I never expected it. They kept telling me, "It's going to do this' and "It's going to do that,' but I never thought it actually would."

All this from the youngest female artist to hit the country charts since Tanya Tucker and Marie Osmond more than 20 years ago.

"There's nothing typical about this 13-year-old," said Wade Jessen, country chart manager for Billboard magazine. . . . A combination of factors led up to this: the novelty of an artist able to perform vocally that way at such a young age, and the first single from this album is a 30-year-old song originally written for Patsy Cline. The country format has needed a water-cooler type artist, someone people can talk about."

The success of Blue, the retro country song written for Cline by Arlington, Texas-based disc jockey Bill Mack, has crossed generational lines, luring in folks who grew up on Cline's brand of country.

"I think that whole album is attracting some older folks who don't go out and buy the records like the younger people do," said Smokey Rivers, program director for KPLX-FM (99.5), which is playing the single Blue and two other tracks, Hurt Me and The Light in Your Eyes. "She's cut through very quickly in all that noise out there of new artists because of her age, her talent and Blue, such a different record. But she's absolutely more than a one-hit wonder."

"Everybody is saying the same thing, that she's another Patsy Cline," said Mack, the famed Midnight Cowboy disc jockey on Arlington's WBAP-AM (820). "In the styling, yes, there's a similarity. She has the same thing Ray Charles has _ soul. It's the same thing Patsy had. She sings from the heart. You can tell that when you watch her on stage."

Rimes is now touring as a headliner in smaller venues but will play four dates as Wynonna's opening act starting next month. Last month, Rimes drew more than 3,000 to Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth for her first show at the popular honky-tonk since Blue took off.

"We have a lot of young artists that even with a Top 10 or No. 1 record or two have not put those kind of numbers in the building," said Robert Gallagher, entertainment coordinator for Billy Bob's. "Obviously one of the hooks is that she's 13 years old, that in itself is unusual. Once they hear the voice, perfect pitch, and she really can deliver a live performance, they are just astonished."

Chuck Howard, a Curb Records executive who produced part of Rimes' album, agrees. "This shows you that people want great singers and great songs and don't care about formats or age," he said from a Nashville recording studio. "Yes, she's 13, and it gets a lot of press, it's a lot for people to talk about. But she's a great singer. I wouldn't care if she's 100. She will be around for a long time."

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