LeAnn Rimes won't be tied down

DAVID SCHMEICHEL - Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 3:30 AM ET

Sure, she's scored a couple crossover pop hits, but in her heart, LeAnn Rimes is still pretty country.

She's also blonde, drop dead sexy, and a relative youngster (only 24 years old) who got her start in the music biz at an extremely young age.

But unlike a certain other pop music phenom with similar credentials, you won't find tabloid shots of Rimes smeared with Cheetos grease, driving around with any babies in her lap, or traipsing barefoot through the doors of any truck stop lavatories.

Seems she and Miss Britney have a different definition of what country is.

"I think I just had too much respect for myself and my parents," Rimes says over the phone from Grand Prairie, Sask., explaining the secret to navigating the path from pre-teen star to young adulthood. "I'm one of those people-pleasers who never wants anyone to be mad at them. I think that kept me from doing anything too naughty."

Like Tanya Tucker before her, Rimes achieved superstardom at the tender age of 13, thanks to an equally tender ballad called Blue and a voice that was rich and powerful beyond her years.

She's since grown into that voice, racking up an impressive string of hits -- among them Can't Fight the Moonlight, The Light In Your Eyes, and How Do I Live -- along the way, and aside from a lawsuit filed against her father (and former manager) when she was a teen, has largely avoided the scandals that plague others her age.

"It's all hidden," jokes Rimes, who has since reconciled with her father. "No, I think it was my parents. It was nice to have them on the road with me ... to be able to say no to me and set limits ... I mean, I've made my mistakes, we all have, and it's given me a lot to write about. It means I've lived. But I've also wanted to prove people wrong. And now I'm one of the 0.01% who still have a career."

Rimes -- who recently released a pop-rock album in Europe, Asia, and Australia, and is working on another country album to be released in North America in early 2007 -- doesn't envy those who find themselves on the uncharitable end of the tabloid camera's glare, but agrees even young stars bear a certain amount of responsibility when it comes to how they're portrayed in the media.

"I started so young, and since I don't know anything other than that, it's been easier to deal with," she explains. "But I don't go out and party, and I don't let someone take pictures of me stumbling out of a club drunk. I don't know. I think it's got to be harder when you're older, and you're just thrown into that."

As for the is-she-country or is-she-pop conundrum some of her more devout fans have been wrestling with, Rimes says she'd hate to limit herself to just one thing.

"I grew up listening to everything, and I've always been influenced by everything that moves me. My favorite kind of music is whatever allows me to be as honest as possible ... and really make people believe in it."

That doesn't mean country fans should plan on a bidding farewell to the singer -- who describes last year's Stetson-friendly album This Woman as "a huge part of myself" -- anytime soon.

"For the longest time, I've been the kid with big voice," she says. "Now I'm finding my voice as a writer, too. And an adult."


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