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Published: Sunday, 11/21/2004

Country queen: Down-to-earth Reba McEntire doesn't seem at all like royalty

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Despite her TV show, much of the world still knows Reba as a country superstar. Despite her TV show, much of the world still knows Reba as a country superstar.
NICOLAS KHAYAT / KRT Enlarge

If there can be a sense of normalcy in Reba McEntire's life, she is experiencing it as she relaxes in her dressing room on the set of the popular WB Network comedy Reba.

She's in early because it's car pool day.

It's hard to picture a queen of country music and a burgeoning Hollywood star driving in a car pool, but maybe it shouldn't be because, after all, she is still Reba, that happy-go-lucky girl from Oklahoma who loves to giggle.

Today is her day to car pool for her 14-year-old son, Shelby, and a classmate from the neighborhood. Then she arrives early on the set to relax before going over the script.

"I really enjoy the car pool," she says. "I love being the team mom for Shelby's soccer team. It is a weird world we live in, especially the entertainment world, but I want to be able to show him how to live, how life is about trying to help other people. I want him to stay healthy and happy."

She's not unlike her television character, Reba Hart. The television Reba is a divorced soccer mom, trying to teach her three children about life. That contrasts slightly with the real Reba, who has been married for 15 years to her longtime manager, Narvel Blackstock, but the writers still weave her personality into the scripts.

"There really is a lot of the Reba Hart character in the real Reba. I'm very stubborn, very family oriented, I'll argue cases of the heart for you," she says. "We have a lot of discussions on the show about how we want to portray the family. At one point, the kids were going to be talking back to me, and I said no. We don't want the kids talking back and being disrespectful. I don't let Shelby do that to me. We have a job to do, and we want to portray family life as it should be."

Now in its fourth season, Reba (Fridays, 9 p.m. on The WB) has been a surprise hit. McEntire has a long list of television and movie credits since debuting in 1990 with Kevin Bacon in the horror film Tremors, but she had very little comedic experience. More than one "expert" wasn't so sure she could pull it off, but, entering this sweeps period, the show continues to grow in strength. It currently has about 4.5 million weekly viewers.

"It's been very rewarding for me. Initially we had 13 weeks to prove ourselves, then we got picked up for nine more weeks, then we got picked up for a second season. We were so happy we were throwing babies in the air," she says before pausing, then adding, "Of course we'd catch them."

As comfortable as she appears on screen, Hollywood's still a dramatic switch for the longtime Nashville star who grew up on a cattle ranch near Chockie, Okla., population 18.

"It's so fast-paced. I didn't know what a trust-fund baby was until I came out here," she says, explaining that it's a child born into a rich family who never has to work. "There are a lot of rich people out here. Sometimes we'll just drive through the neighborhoods to look at all the houses."

Because of her schedule, she keeps homes in California and the Nashville area. "I love the serenity and the calmness of Tennessee. It's so much more peaceful. It's nice to just go and sit outside on the porch," she says.

No matter how successful she becomes on television, a lot of the world will always know Reba McEntire as a country superstar. Her career has spanned more than 25 years and has produced 53 Top 10 hits, more than any other female artist except for Dolly Parton, who has 55.

Last year she released "Room to Breathe," her first studio album in four years. When the second single on the album, "Somebody," hit No. 1 over the summer, it gave McEntire the record for the woman with the longest span of No. 1 hits. She first topped the charts in 1983 with "Can't Even Get the Blues."

McEntire is just now wrapping up her first tour in several years. During that tour, she would film her television show during the week, then fly out to a concert site on the weekends.

"There never really was a plan when I started in music. All I wanted was to hear myself on the radio, then to be a big star, but it took me six years to get that first No. 1. Then I wanted a bus, and I got a bus, and it broke down every day, so I guess you really need to be careful what you ask for," she says with a chuckle.

She is still one of the most beloved women in country music.

Last week, McEntire was named Favorite Female Country Artist at the American Music Awards, beating out Martina McBride and Gretchen Wilson.

But ask her what she truly values about her career in country music, and she won't run through a litany of awards or No. 1 hits or the 48 million records sold.

"The people I've met, the friends I truly cherish," she says, adding that she had just gotten off the phone with Sara Evans, congratulating her on her new baby. "That kind of friendship is priceless to me."

Talk about her country music friends naturally leads into conversation about Vince Gill, one of her best friends in the business.

Without a doubt, Gill is a country music legend. And as respected as he is for his musical ability, he is also known as one of the most laid-back entertainers in the business. Three years ago he showed up at Country Concert in Fort Loramie, Ohio, after lunch at a local rstaurant, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. Later that night, he took the stage, wearing that Hawaiian shirt and sandals.

"I've got to tell you this story about Vince. When we were touring together during the early m'90s, we were playing in this Greek theater somewhere, and it was during the middle of the World Series. He shows up after playing golf all day, and he still literally has grass stains on his socks.

"Well, I'm backstage and someone says 'Hey, come look at this.' There's a monitor back there, and we were watching Vince on stage. He was singing and playing, but then he'd slide back and look at these little TVs on stage. He was leaning back and catching parts of the game," she says, breaking into an extended period of giggling.

That vibrant personality and musical and television success has also helped McEntire's charitable endeavors. She is a spokesperson for Habitat for Humanity. She has also been a main benefactor for the Texoma Medical Center in Denison, Texas, where there is the Reba McEntire Rehabilitation Center, the Reba McEntire Mobile Mammography Unit, and Reba's Ranch House, a guest house for family of patients being treated at the center.

"To know you've lent your support makes you feel really good," she says.

As if music, television, and charity weren't enough to keep her busy, McEntire is also partnering with Dillard's to release a "Reba" women's sportswear collection, which will launch in the spring at 147 Dillard's stores nationwide.

"I guess they just wanted to give me something else to do," she chuckles.

So is she a businesswoman, actress, entertainer, or humanitarian?

McEntire has other ideas.

"I hope people say I'm a great person, a friendly person, someone who's fun to be around," she says. "What you see is what you get with me."

Contact Brian Dugger at: bdugger@theblade.com or 419-724-6183.



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