If things work out as K.T. Oslin would like, the country-pop singer may be growing a new set of initials: T.V. Oslin.
"Television is approaching us all the time about sitcoms and this and that," Oslin, who sings tonight at the Celebrity Theatre, said in a recent phone interview from her home in Nashville. "So far we haven't hit on what we think is right. But you know it when you see what's right. "I would like to incorporate acting back into my life, because that's what I started as."
Oslin can afford to think about new directions, having established herself with three hit albums that have been marketed as country but which really combine the urbane style of adult-contemporary pop with a folksy twang.
Oslin (the K.T. is for Kay Toinette) said that television already has been good to her.
"Country radio has been kind of fighting me. A lot of stations, I don't fit their format. People don't consider me traditional country, nor did I ever say I was." But sing-and-chat stints on the late-night TV talk shows have helped make up for any gaps in her radio profile. "Every time I go on TV," she said, "I reach people who don't necessarily listen to country music. And any time I reach an audience that isn't one that only knows country music, I sell a lot of records."
It isn't surprising that Oslin, 49, would come off well bantering with Johnny Carson, or that she would rate consideration for a part in a television series. On a concert stage, she is a vibrant, vivacious performer who clearly enjoys playing the character roles she creates in her songs. Among them are the been-through-it-all Everywoman of her 1987 breakthrough hit, "80's Ladies"; the sassy young woman of "Hey Bobby," who knows what she likes in a man and is quite willing to go after it; or the heartache-burdened wife of "Hold Me," who fears the flame has gone out of her marriage.
In conversation, Oslin is an animated talker ready with a wry observation or a husky laugh to punctuate the story of a circuitous career that blossomed in midlife.
Born in Arkansas and raised in Alabama and Texas, she attended junior college, majored in drama, and moved to New York City in her 20s, hoping to establish herself on Broadway as a musical actress. After a series of chorus and understudy roles, she found herself looking for another line of work.
"I didn't see that I could make any money. I didn't see that I could live anything other than a grimy little actor's life."
So she moved toward a more remunerative, though hardly lucrative, career acting in commercials and singing jingles.
It was during a more offbeat moonlighting hitch as a singer in a Moog synthesizer troupe that Oslin first found her calling as a songwriter. The troupe toured colleges in 1975; Oslin, who had been recommended to the tour's organizers, was signed on to sing amid the electronic blips and buzzes.
"I had no idea what I was doing. It was wild, with moaning and groaning. I was singing a 45-minute piece. It was supposed to be about some young woman's travels through life, but you couldn't prove it by me. I had no earthly idea what I was singing, but I liked it. It was fun."
When those avant-gardists stopped for breakfast in a hamlet called Due West, S.C., Oslin found an earthier sentiment written on a bathroom wall: "I ain't never gonna love nobody but Cornell Crawford."
"It made me laugh out loud, it was so definitive, so emphatic," Oslin recalled, laughing out loud. "It instantly conjured up this couple I thought it would be fun to write about."
Back in New York, she and a friend, Joe Miller, knocked out a countrified ditty sung in the rustic voice of a girl smitten by a whiskey-guzzling, Camel-puffing, pickup-driving Cornell. The song surfaced on Oslin's current album, "Love in a Small Town."
That initial effort established a method Oslin has continued to follow: crafting songs that are little monologues or character vignettes she can play out in her performance.
"Every time I sing that stupid song ("Cornell Crawford"), I can picture that couple. It makes me happy, because (I see them as) a couple that made it. The couple in 'Hold On,' I can hear them talking, I can see what their house looks like. It's using acting. You're not just K.T. Oslin singing a song. You become this other person for three minutes."
After writing "Cornell Crawford" for a lark, Oslin continued to write songs to pass the time while waiting at home to be called in to audition for parts in commercials.
"I just sort of dribbled on, a month or so later I would write another stupid song. They were funny and made me laugh. I got a little more serious as I kept on with it, and got better. I thought, 'I can't believe it, but you're showing some kind of propensity for writing.' "
In 1979, Oslin landed a singles-only recording contract with Warner Bros., but by 1982 none of those singles had become a hit and she lost her deal.