Thirty is a mark most musical divas fear — or at least approach with some sense of foreboding and apprehension.
But not LeAnn Rimes.
"Oh, I'm totally ready," says Rimes, who still has nine months before that auspicious date. "I'm ready to ditch my 20s. The 20s sucked. ... Well, they've been great and they've been really bad, and I'm so ready for just a brand new start."
In truth, it's only the past couple of years that have really cast a pall on Rimes' 20s.
The Mississippi-born singer and "Star Search" contestant, who had her first hit — a cover of Patsy Cline's "Blue" — in 1996, when she was just 13 years old, went through a high-profile divorce from Michigan-born dancer Dean Sheremet in 2009. At the same time her extramarital affair with actor Eddie Cibrian ("Northern Lights," "The Playboy Club"), who Rimes married in April, became public, generating tabloid controversy and backlash from the conservative country music community.
"I think that as 'celebrities,' people forget that we're human beings," Rimes says. "We have crappy years and crappy days and crappy weeks and pain and all of that, and we make mistakes. But I'm a really positive person at the end of the day, and thank God I have my music. I can turn a really crappy day into something really hopefully good with that."
In this case, Rimes did it with "Lady & Gentlemen," which was released in September and debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. The set finds her singing covers of country songs written and performed by men, including Merle Haggard, Kris Kirstofferson, Waylon Jennings, John Anderson and the album's co-producer, Vince Gill, and while she recorded one other covers album, "You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs" in 1997, on "Lady & Gentlemen" Rimes found songs that she felt tapped into what she was going through at the time.
"I was in a really vulnerable place in my life, a lot of pain and suffering — and a lot of happiness and just so many different emotions," she explains. "They're all captured within this record, and that's kind of cool. I didn't necessarily write these songs, but they became mine. All of them could relate to just what I was going through at that time in my life."
With "Lady & Gentlemen" out, Rimes plans to return to an album of original material that she had also started last year. She says she was "almost completely done" with that record, but the more traditional country direction of "Lady & Gentlemen" has her re-thinking its direction when she returns to the studio.
"I think I'll finish that other record with a bit of a different approach, just because of how incredibly satisfied I am with ('Lady & Gentlemen')," she says. "I think with (2007's) 'Family' I've become more organic, not over-producing things or trying to force things. I like the idea of stripping everything that we have down to the bare bones and really kind of building it back up to sound contemporary, but still have this organic, old-school vibe on songs.
"That's almost like coming 360, in a way, to where I began with this very traditional kind of country music. I feel like there's a gap there these days. No one's really doing it, and I want to kind of bring it back a little bit."
Before that happens, however, fans will get a look at Rimes in a different venue — acting. She co-stars with Burt Reynolds in "Reel Love," a CMT original movie that debuts today. (Sunday, Nov. 13) Rimes, who likes to rehearse lines with Cibrian at their home in Los Angeles, plays a small-town girl who's moved to "the big city" but has to return when her father falls ill.
"She ends up mending a lot of things with him and finding love along the way," Rimes says. "It's very much a family-oriented movie. There's a lot of funny moments, but there's definitely a lot of heart to it.
"And I loved working with (Reynolds). He's such a legend, and very much an improv guy. I've never really done that before, so I had to be on my toes all the time. I learned a lot just being on the set with him."
Rimes says she hopes to do more acting in the future.
"I'm getting more and more comfortable in front of the cameras," she notes. "It's just about finding the right things. I'm definitely going to expand that way."
But Rimes promises that music will remain her primary focus.
"I believe I'm in a good place right now," she says. "I'm really happy, and I'm making great music. I couldn't be prouder of the music that I'm making right now, on ('Lady & Gentlemen') and what's to come.
"I'm so ready for just a brand new start. I've got a lot of rebirth coming around, I think, and I'm really happy about that. New beginnings are good."
LeAnn Rimes performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, at Sound Board in the Motor City Casino, 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $40 and $42. Call (313) 237-7711 or visit www.motorcitycasino.com.
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