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LeAnn Rimes is back in the country fold

May 15, 2008|Steve Friess | Steve Friess co-hosts the Vegas-centric celebrity interview podcast "The Strip" at TheStripPodcast.Com

THIS IS not a comeback, LeAnn Rimes wants you to know. This is a second act.

As the Mississippi-born singer gets set to perform the title track of her first pure country album at the MGM Grand on Sunday as part of the Academy of Country Music Awards, she's not so much feeling lucky to be back in the bosom of the genre as pleased her plans worked out so well.

"I don't ever feel I ever left," says Rimes, who at 25 has sold nearly 40 million records. "I feel I was blessed with a gift that I could sing anything that came my way. I never felt like my heart left country music."

Still, this is a different Rimes than the apple-cheeked 13-year-old prodigy who rode "Blue" to the top of the charts and, in turn, became the youngest Grammy winner ever, before branching out into pop music. With her new record "Family," she's shedding her habit of covering other legends' songs ("You Light Up My Life" and "Unchained Melody," among them) as well as that wholesome image. The video for one single, "Nothin' Better to Do," shows an underwear-clad Rimes making bad-kitten glances.

"I was always America's sweetheart, but you grow up, you get married, you have sex, my God!" she says. "I work out a lot, I take care of myself and I like showing it off in a way that's fun and doesn't show too much and that shows that that's part of being a woman."

Rimes co-wrote several tracks on the album, which delves into such painful topics as her reconciliation with her father after a legal battle in which they accused one another of cheating the other out of earnings. The singer insisted on a resolution days before her wedding in 2002 to a dancer she met while hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2001. And she's promoting the album by touring this summer as an opening act for Kenny Chesney, a role reversal for the longtime headliner, but one she says is a relief.

The last time Rimes won an ACM honor was 1996 when she took home single of the year and song of the year trophies for "Blue." This time, she's up for vocal event of the year, for a duet of "Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore" with Bon Jovi, and for top female artist, in a battle with 18-year-old Taylor Swift. Swift, Rimes says, was a devoted fan of hers who attended several of her concerts "when she was younger."

Now, Rimes is the elder stateswoman and has wisdom to offer the likes of Swift and such teen stars as singer-actress Miley Cyrus. Rimes was also shot by photographer Annie Leibovitz as a teen -- though her photos weren't racy like the Vanity Fair pictorial of Cyrus -- and sympathizes with Cyrus and Swift.

"The sad thing is when you're in their position, everyone at some point is going to bring you down," Rimes says. "This is where they're going to show how strong they are. . . . They have to keep their heads down and not listen."

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theguide@latimes.com

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ACADEMY OF COUNTRY MUSIC AWARDS WEEKEND

FREE CONCERTS: Randy Owen, with Whiskey Falls, James Otto, Keith Anderson, 6:30 p.m. Fri.; Sugarland, with the Lost Trailers, Heidi Newfield, Billy Currington, 6:30 p.m. Sat. Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas.

AWARDS SHOW: LeAnn Rimes, Kenny Chesney, Kellie Pickler, George Strait, Reba McEntire and others. MGM Grand Garden Arena, 3799 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas. 5 p.m. Sun. $100-$450.

INFO: (702) 891-1111, mgmgrand.com

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