LeAnn Rimes steps shyly into the anteroom of a Westside recording studio. "I'm hungry," the jet-lagged teenager says to her parents. "It's like lunchtime in Dallas. What's there to eat around here?"
After hearing the options, LeAnn, her mother Belinda and her dad Wilbur agree on steak. "OK, we'll go to the Palm," their press agent says.
The most expensive steakhouse is par for the course when you have one of the hottest albums in the country.
The big numbers rung up by Rimes' "Blue"--more than 250,000 copies sold in its first two weeks, for a No. 3 spot on the national pop chart--have quieted the skeptics who attributed the earlier success of her single "Blue" to the nostalgia of its Patsy Cline sound and the novelty of the singer's age--13.
"There is a novelty part to it, but I want to be known as an artist, not as just a 13-year-old person that can kind of sing," Rimes says. "I want to be known as an artist just like Reba and Wynonna are known as artists."
What are the chances of that in Nashville?
"The general tone has been one of, 'Give her a chance,' " says Danny Proctor, the managing editor of the monthly magazine Music City News. "It's not really a novelty because we've seen this before. Brenda Lee and then Tanya Tucker both started out [young] . . . and they made it. I really have not heard anything negative in the industry. It's more a 'good for her' thing."
Rimes is disquietingly perky for someone who's operating on little sleep after a night of airline delays on the flight from Dallas. She's here to record a promotional Christmas song and a commercial for the Target department store chain, then it will be back on the road. (She opens for Dwight Yoakam on Aug. 10 at the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion.)
"It's just a lot of fun," she says. "The best part is going out on stage and seeing the fans, how they like your music and singing along with you. It's really neat."
But how can a 13-year-old sing love songs that are obviously beyond her experience?
"Like an actor or actress is the interpreter of a script, I'm an interpreter of a song. . . . I might not have lived it, but I know what it's about, so I can basically feel the song. I don't think I have to live it to sing it."
If Rimes' answers come quickly and neatly, chalk it up to the fact that the media have been lining up for her since the single streaked up the charts a few months ago.
"It's so hot right now, she's in such demand, this mornin' I just had to turn people down," says Wilbur Rimes, a gruff-sounding, plain-spoken man who's had to learn the ropes quickly. "She's too young to push that way."
That's a sensitive issue these days, especially after the recent plane-crash death of 7-year-old pilot Jessica Dubroff triggered widespread soul-searching about precocious kids and ambitious parents.
All three Rimes agree that's not an issue here.
"My mom and dad have really been supportive of me," LeAnn says. "I told them what I wanted to do at age 5, so they just kind of helped me along."
"Let me tell you something," says her mother, a pleasant woman with an easy laugh. "This girl is focused. She would go over you, through you, around you to do what she was wantin' to do right now."
The Rimes have tapes of their only child singing--on pitch--when she was 18 months old. At age 2 she was encouraged by her dance teacher to enter song and dance contests.
When LeAnn was 6, the family moved from Mississippi to Dallas, where she began performing at weekly country music revues with names like the Mesquite Opry. She recorded her first demos at age 8, and at 11 she cut an independent album that led to her signing with Curb Records.
That's a lot of hard work packed into 13 years, and it hasn't left much time for standard childhood activities. But that's fine with LeAnn.
"I don't think I'm really giving up a lot, because I'm achieving a lot right now," she says. "I do have a different life, and I've grown up in an adult world. I don't have any friends my age. I don't mind that. I don't mind giving up the prom kind of thing and all that. I really don't think I'm missing out on anything 'cause this is what I want to do.
"Who's to say that any life is normal? This is what I've grown up doing, this is what I know, and this is what's normal to me."
* LeAnn Rimes appears with Dwight Yoakam and David Ball on Aug. 10 at Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion, 2575 Glen Helen Parkway, Devore, 7 p.m. $15-$37.50. (909) 886-8742.