Until now, Martina McBride has never spoken this publicly about gay issues. But tackling tough and taboo subjects is something the mega country star known for hits like This Ones for the Girls and I Love You has been doing since she came on the scene 17 years ago. McBride's latest contempo-country LP, Shine (out March 24), is a new, fresh-sounding chapter -- number 10, to be exact -- in her luminous career and tracks like the first single, "Ride," which is already galloping up the charts, offer karaoke zealots new chances to fail miserably at mimicking her stratosphere-reaching vocals. In her first major gay press interview the singer chatted with Out about tolerance (and why shes taking a stand now), the possibility of an out country star (she wishes!), and how a down-home drag queen can look a little more Martina.
Out: This is your first gay press interview. How do you feel? Nervous? Excited? Like Dolly Parton in the making?
Martina McBride: I wish. No, I love it. Its great!
Your core audience is mostly made up of conservative, straight, Middle Americans. Would you tell them to be more tolerant of gay people? Or do you feel like you might get a [The Dixie Chicks] Natalie Maines-type backlash?
Honestly, I just have to do whats right for me, and what I would tell people is what I believe, which is that I feel like tolerance is very important. I have three daughters and thats what I teach them. I think we should all be tolerant of each other and embrace each others strengths and differences and uniqueness and beauty.
One of your hit songs, In My Daughters Eyes, includes a line about everyone being equal. So youve always felt that way then?
Absolutely! I grew up in Kansas on a farm in a very small town of about 180 people. So, needless to say [laughs], I didnt know any gay people when I was growing up -- and it just sort of wasnt an issue. But Ive always believed my parents had -- luckily -- a kind of care for our fellow human beings. No matter what.
How did you first get introduced to the gay community?
One of the first gay people that I spent a lot of time around was my hairdresser, who still does my hair, and weve worked together for -- oh my gosh -- probably 15 years now. And so through him I got introduced to other gay people and the culture and everything, and that was my first introduction. That was the first time I moved to Nashville. I went from, really, that little tiny town [in Kansas], to a little bit bigger town, to just a little bit bigger town. And then I moved to [Nashville].
To a really big town!
Yeah, my world broadened immensely when I moved here. [Laughs]
We just elected our first black president and you performed for him recently. How ready do you think that we are for a gay mainstream country star?
For a country star? Honestly, thats a tough one. [Sighs] Our core audience, like you said, is very conservative, is very Middle America, very Bible belt. I dont know. That might be a hard sell. I mean, I would be fine with it. But thats -- I dont know if were ready for that. I would hope so. I would love it!
I love that several country artists -- including Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, and yourself -- have all embraced the gay community wholeheartedly, but why are you just deciding to publicly do so now?
Its not that Ive really just decided to do it right now. Its not a conscious decision. I have a friend who works at the record company who kind of brought it up. She was like, What about talking to some gay magazines? -- were actually doing a mix of the single Ride for some clubs -- and I was like, Well, yeah! But I dont know; it was just never really brought up to me before, and its my own fault that I didnt pursue it. She sent it to me in an e-mail, What do you think about this? And I said, Absolutely! -- with exclamation points.
How do you feel knowing that some of your songs, like From The Ashes for example, have helped people come out?
Oh, I love it! My music is hopefully empowering to people, and so thats one thing that I hear over and over. And its definitely something I want to put out there. So when I hear a story like that, I love it. My musics doing when its supposed to do -- its empowering people to do whatever they need to do in their life.
And its cheaper than therapy, too.
The young girl in the song Wild Rebel Rose from the new disc is kind of an outsider; shes abused and teased. Have you ever felt like an outsider yourself?
Oh, yeah, definitely. When I was growing up I -- well, in any small town -- its like sports are really important to the high school and I wasnt very good at sports. I was always into music. And none of my friends were really into music the same way I was. So it was just different. It was really not very well understood by most of my friends. They didnt tease me about it -- they just didnt really relate. I wasnt necessarily an outcast, but I never really felt like I fit in.
Your music is obviously very issue-oriented. Youve covered abuse, suicide, self-empowerment. How, if ever, do you think you could work gay rights into a song?
Oh! That would be cool. I dont know, thats a good question. Thats a good thing to explore. I dont know if there are very many people -- country writers -- writing songs like that [laughs], but Im starting to write now, so maybe Ill have to bring that up.
What are your style secrets -- you know, in case a Martina McBride drag queen is looking for any inspiration?
The bigger the better with the hair. Make it look big -- you know, flowing like a lion, kind of awesome rock star hair. And clothes wise? I always wear heels on stage, even if theyre boots. Ive never been into flats. I dont know, it just makes me feel ... sexier.
Now people are quick to call female vocalists divas, especially the ones with the big voices, but outside of having a voice that could knock down a skyscraper, would you consider yourself a diva?
I can be a diva, but generally speaking Im really down to earth and I dont really pull a lot of diva trips. But I do think part of being a diva is just confidence and being really comfortable with who you are, and thats, I think, the biggest part of it.
So when youre on tour you dont require a certain bottle of wine in your dressing room?
No, Im very un-diva like when it comes to that. [Laughs]
On the first song from the album, Wrong Baby Wrong Baby Wrong, you share a bottle of wine with a friend whos gone through a bad break-up. Whats your favorite kind of wine?
I like Cabernet. Thats my favorite. I like white wine, but usually in the day time or in the summertime. But red wine, I love it.
So youre a day drinker then, Martina?
Well, I have been known to drink during the day, sure. [Long pause] Im not drinking right now. [Laughs]