Four years after placing third on Nashville Star, 24-year-old Miranda Lambert is able to say, once and for all, that she’s glad she failed to win.
After all, the debut album of 2003’s big winner, Buddy Jewell, only went gold and Sony dropped him after his follow-up did poorly. Subsequent show winners got stiffed even worse. In fact, the Longview-born Lambert is the only successful contestant ever to emerge from the competition and, along with Carrie Underwood and Josh Gracin of American Idol fame, the only music reality show contestant to succeed in the country market.
“I think if you win a show like that, you constantly have that stigma − whether it’s Nashville Star or American Idol or whatever it is,” Lambert says. “I was writing songs all the way through Nashville Star and I kind of knew I was going to get a record deal, but I didn’t want to make the record in a month `if I actually won`. I wasn’t at all ready.
“I’m proud of the show,” she adds. “It got me where I am. I think getting third place got me all the exposure I needed, but I also got to do it my own way.”
There’s something unique about Lambert, though. Something that, say, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood had after American Idol and that Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino — and almost all the runners-up — didn’t have. That’s the perfect combination of self-assurance, work ethic, and determination, which has, if you’re unfamiliar with her work, resulted in a platinum selling debut (2003’s Kerosene), its follow-up, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007), and multiple Grammy nominations, including one this year for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “Famous In A Small Town,” an ode to her longtime home, Lindale, Texas.
“People ask, ‘What happened to the other people on Nashville Star? Where’d they go?’ And I think people assume that just because I was on TV, it’s all going to fall in my lap, but it’s sooo much work,” Lambert says.
“Somebody told me during Nashville Star — and this stuck with me — ‘You’re not competing with yourselves, you’re competing with Faith Hill and Martina McBride,’” she continues, “And you know what? That’s right. It’s a constant competition, and Nashville Star just prepared me for the rest of my career.”
Though Lambert has scored big with tough-talking, ass-kicking anthems such as “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Kerosene” (in which she douses an ex with, um, kerosene) the Kewpie-doll-faced singer says this rough-and-tumble persona – which, by the way, completely contradicts the sweet Texas girl she is on the phone – can’t hope to encapsulate her confusing complexities. “I get my heart broken, too,” she insists. “I guess, with `‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’`, I’m just able to show both sides.”
She’s talking about how, on her latest, you’ve got songs like the title track and “Gunpowder and Lead” (which little girls are made of, according to its lyrics) mixed with painful ballads such as “More Like Me” and “Love Letters.” Hell, on the album art, she sports a tattoo of pistols and angel wings.
“With ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ and ‘Kerosene,’ everyone says, ‘She’s the rough one,’” Lambert explains. “I really wanted to let my fans in on another part of Miranda.” Kerosene, it turns out, didn’t let listeners in enough. “It was a little scary, but I’m really glad I did it. I think that’s what people want to hear because that’s what I like to listen to.”
Lambert’s music manages to not only show the contradictions in her own identity, but also expose the banality of almost everything else it’s competing with on the radio. Country music gradually lost its emotional daring over the last three decades, and its stubborn cheeriness these days rarely allows for the kind of dark honesty that made Tammy Wynette or Loretta Lynn such legendary, and controversial, figures.
“I guess it just got fluffy,” Lambert says, not missing a beat when asked what went wrong in the ‘80s and ‘90s. “Everything just got so happy and ‘we’re so blessed.’” Lambert grew up listening to country mavericks such as Steve Earle and eventually found George Strait and Randy Travis, but, “I don’t really think country people who are stuck in traffic and having a shitty day want to hear about how happy everybody is. They want reality. I don’t know why that became a trend for a while, but I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to sing about what I was thinking on a crappy day, ’cause I’m sure somebody else is having one, too.”
This is not to say that when Miranda Lambert is stuck in traffic, she thinks about dousing no-good exes with kerosene and lighting them on fire, but it’s entirely possible the singer does spend some of her highway idle time plotting revenge fantasies. “I’m from Texas,” she says, “so I guess I’ve got that attitude of ‘Don’t mess with me.’ I don’t take any crap.” •
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San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo
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