Music Preview: Reba talks tour, practical jokes and her past life
October 16, 2008 8:00 AM
Reba McEntire has conquered arenas from country music to TV sitcoms to a clothing line.
By Alan W. Petrucelli
Reba is ricocheting.
Reba Nell McEntire is asked a simple question, yet the answer cannot, perhaps will not, come. The voice that has sold 55 million records has been silenced.
The question is repeated: "What's the silliest thing you've ever done?"
Long pause. "Oh, goodness! Hmmm, man, that's tough."
Longer pause. "I've done so many silly things. Let's come back to that."
With: Kelly Clarkson
Where: Mellon Arena
When: 8 p.m. Friday
More information: 412-323-1919
In the meantime, McEntire chats about life and love, fame and fortune, music and marriage, Reba the singer and mother and wife, and "Reba" the long-running TV sitcom now on DVD and in syndication. She even talks of being a Costco member. "Why not buy 150 rolls of toilet paper at one time? I eventually use them up," she says with a laugh.
McEntire's coming to Mellon Arena Friday, one city in a multi-city tour that's teaming her with her good buddy and "American Idol," Kelly Clarkson, who also just happens to be one of McEntire's financial investments. (Her company, Starstruck, manages Clarkson.)
Rumor has it that McEntire will sing just about all her hits -- with dozens of No. 1 songs, that alone should take up a good part of the evening. She hates revealing too much of the show in advance. "I like to give something back to my fans and want them to be surprised," she says in that thick country twang. "You know me."
Actually, I do. We first met in New York in the '80s, when she was an up-and-coming singer, a woman with a record label, minor success, a divorce from first husband Charlie Battles ("an appropriate name") and a mad love affair -- and eventual marriage -- to former musician Narvel Blackstock. I was there when she first played (and sold out) Carnegie Hall. When she learned she was pregnant (son Shelby is now 18; she's also a step-mom), she gave me the exclusive.
Now, Reba is calling from her gated home in Beverly Hills. I tell her that she's rightfully earned the nickname "Queen of Country Music," but no, she says, Loretta Lynn or Kitty Wells or Patsy Cline or Dolly Parton is more deserving of the title. She suggests "Redhead From Oklahoma." McEntire, 53, has released 33 albums in various coatings of platinum, gold and silver. Her resume also boasts two Grammys, two bestselling autobiographies, five fistfuls of various honors and hosannas and one handful of film and stage credits. Her sitcom, "Reba," wound down its six-season run last February, giving the singer more time to promote her line of clothing sold exclusively by Dillard's.
Although some die-hard critics have accused her of forgetting her country roots and crossing over and selling out too many times -- recording Aretha Franklin's R&B classic "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," attempting to be a movie star, tackling (and quite successfully) Broadway musicals -- hers is a fan base that isn't fickle and remains true.
"My talent is a gift from God," McEntire explains. "I need to use it. If I don't, I wouldn't blame Him one bit if he took it away and gave it to someone else. I am very blessed, and never lose sight of that. When I die, I want to leave something behind. I want my kids to say, 'Gee, Mom really did some good on this earth.' "
As in "salt of the earth"?
"That's it!" she shouts enthusiastically. "The silliest thing I've ever done! I once poured salt into my friend Vanessa Foster's hair. We were in a bathroom south of Durant, Okla., near the border; she was in one stall and I was in the other. I stood up on my toilet seat and poured salt over into her stall and into her hair. That's real hard to get out!"
She laughs long and loud.
The answer to the obvious next question, how did she happen to have a salt shaker with her?: "Why, I went into the stall with it, with the purpose of pouring it into Vanessa's hair."
Chatty, candid and a bit corny. That's Reba.
She gets on the subject of redheads (no, hers is not real) so I naturally ask between Lucy, Carrot Top and Reba, who's the funniest redhead?
"Lucy!" McEntire says faster than any of her records have shot up the charts. "She would do anything, and she did, and she pulled it off. I absolutely love Lucille Ball."
She's told that another redhead -- Wynonna -- once said that "everything Reba touches turns to gold."
Well, not everything.
"In 1994-1995, I got into racehorses -- I had 21 of them, but I worked so much that I never got to go to the races to see the horses run," McEntire says. "I shouldn't have gone into that. It cost a lot of money."
Her 1990 sci-fi spoof "Tremors" marked her film debut and is a cult classic, but her big-screen career never took off.
"Nothing came along that I really liked," she says. "Plus I don't like the filming schedule, the lack of control. I'd read a script and love it, but knew that what would be on screen would be something totally different."
If she had to choose one, in which would she rather star: "The Britney Spears Story: A Hair-Raising Thriller" or "Paris Hilton: No Reservations"?
A long laugh. "Britney! She came up working in the music business, was a huge success then something went wrong and now she's on a downside. Poor thing. What happened to her is very interesting to me. Paris? She acquired her fame through being, I guess, a rich socialite. She didn't earn it, so she doesn't interest me."
Asked to reveal a secret for her fans, McEntire admits she has Annie Lennox is on her iPod: "She's a strong woman and I love her voice; I love 'Twisted.' "
Then, "I believe in reincarnation," she confesses. " I believe I've gone both ways -- that I have been here before as a man. I will get flak from Christians who will say I can't be a Christian if I believe this. That's true, and I'm sorry, but this is how I live my life, this is what I believe. I believe I have spent time with my son Shelby before. I believe I have spent time with other people in my life before. Who knows? Maybe I'm part Buddhist."
From religion to politics, of sorts. McEntire doesn't like talking politics at length, but the self-confessed "computer geek" has a special relationship with former President Bush.
"We e-mail each other on our Treos all the time -- nothing political, just passing jokes back and forth," she explains. "He's really into e-mail and so are his buddies. Senior Bush invited my husband [Narvel Blackstock] and I on a private cruise to the Greek islands about four years ago. We became very good friends, and that's when the e-mail stuff started."
How did she thank him for such an extravagant gift?
"I went back to the States with him on his plane," she adds. "I knelt by his chair and said, 'I want you to know that nobody has ever offered me a trip like this before and I appreciate it more than you can ever imagine.' I got real tears in my eyes and he did, too. He reached up and touched my face and said, 'I'm glad you came.' "
Two days after our chat, there's a message on my answering machine.
"Alan? It's Reba. I've been thinking about the silliest thing I've ever done, and last night I went karaoking with Kelly Clarkson. She's half my age but we have a blast together ..."