Ask country singer Faith Hill whether she's ever been petrified during her dizzying ascent to stardom in the last year, and she starts rattling off a list.
"The first show I had with Reba; the first time I was on David Letterman; the CMA awards; the . . . "
But that same list leads her to conclude: "I've had a pretty awesome year. I don't think it could have been any better myself."
Perhaps not. The 27-year-old singer's debut album, "Take Me as I Am," released late last year, has yielded two No. 1 country hits. The first, "Wild One," stayed at that pinnacle four weeks, matching a record for a new female artist set by Connie Smith in 1964. The second single was her two-step remake of "Piece of My Heart," a tune last claimed by Janis Joplin in 1968.
Her album has gone gold and appears on its way to reaching platinum soon. She was nominated for a Country Music Assn. Horizon Award, recognizing new talent. She's gotten to sing with George Jones and meet such other legends as Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. She's toured with her vocal idol, Reba McEntire, as well as Brooks & Dunn, and is now on the road with Alan Jackson, with whom she appears at The Pond of Anaheim tonight.
If that weren't all nice enough, Hill was calling from a tour stop in Denver, having just had a day off in Aspen.
"We're pretty much coming from paradise, but we're excited to be coming out to Anaheim, though," she declared.
Is this woman diplomatic or what?
She's loving her tour with Jackson, who has penned a song for her that she plans to include on her sophomore album. She also loved touring with Brooks & Dunn, and certainly with McEntire.
"That was unbelievable for me. Can you imagine, getting to work with someone who was your hero? It was really a highlight of my career, by far."
It might seem a little strange for someone to be talking about her career highlights when she's been in the business for, what, a year? But like many a star, Hill worked at it for years before finding success.
She fell in love with music in church, growing up in Star, Miss.
"I didn't know I wanted to be an entertainer as a career. I just know that I loved to sing," she said.
By the time she was in high school, she was singing at rodeos and other events. Then at 19, she moved to Nashville.
In many respects, Nashville is just a be-twanged version of Hollywood, where it seems every waiter and carhop is a star waiting to be discovered.
"There is a lot of that there, but there are some just normal people there too," Hill asserted, with a laugh. "There are people who actually grew up in Nashville and just work there. But there \o7 are\f7 an awful lot of aspiring musicians, artists and songwriters in Nashville. It's the place of dreams, just like Los Angeles."
Hill found it hard for a would-be singer to land a day job.
"Employers didn't take you quite as seriously" if you were a musician, she said. "I didn't realize that at first. I went to several places for jobs and was turned away just for the fact of being honest and saying, 'Of course, I moved here to be a singer.'
"That quickly changed. When I went to apply for a receptionist position at Gary Morris' publishing company, I told them that I wasn't in Nashville to be a singer, just to go to school and work as a receptionist. And I \o7 got\f7 the job."
Though singer Morris wasn't instrumental in furthering her career, Hill remains grateful to him.
"He gave me a job for 3 1/2 years, and he gave me advice, and he \o7 didn't\f7 fire me when he did find out I'd come to Nashville for a singing career. To me, that kind of support is well needed as much as someone taking your tape to a record company."
She was also fortunate in befriending hit Nashville singer-songwriter Gary Burr (who currently has his name on three charting country singles). He hired her as a singer in his band and used her to record demos. When she got signed by Warner Bros., some of the songs Hill brought to her sessions were Burr's.
"He was basically responsible for getting me going in Nashville," Hill said. "He's the guy who heard me as a young teen-ager who had a lot of dreams. . . . He heard something there, I guess, and wanted to see what he could do to help me mature it and took me under his wing."
She hasn't been able to form as close a bond with the famous names she has worked with since, "simply because we're all working all the time," she said.
When growing up, she said, her vision of country stardom came mostly from movies and awards shows. "I had these pictures of it as a life of \o7 party\f7 , just partying all the time and playing music 24 hours a day, and then a life of limousines and nice clothes. Some of that is true, but the reality is we work our butts off, and it's not all limousines and long, gorgeous dresses."
Along with performing, Hill says she takes an active hand in every aspect of her career, from the finances to the tour routing. She's not yet a millionaire, she says, and if she were, she probably wouldn't get to act like one for some time.