Reba McEntire thought she had finished her 27th studio album, Love Somebody, several weeks before its release date. But when she began searching for bonus tracks for a special edition of the CD to be sold at Target stores, she discovered a sassy song she says the album wouldn't have been complete without. "I was sent this track, 'Going Out Like That,' and Jason Sellers was singing it," she says. "I thought it sounded good with a male voice, but when I heard it I knew a woman really needed to sing it 'cause it is a woman's anthem. So sure enough, I recorded it and it was unanimous from my team and everyone at the record label that it be the first single from the album."
Of course, McEntire feeling the urge to shepherd a song with the potential to empower women isn't a surprise for any fan who has followed the 60-year-old singer's career over the years. Like other female country greats such as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Shania Twain, McEntire has been a role model for young women since her debut single, "I Don't Want to Be a One Night Stand," cracked the Billboard country music chart in 1976 -- proving that female artists can not only hold their own in a genre dominated by male singers, they can become superstars.
Nevertheless, McEntire sees a new era on the horizon for the genre. "I've seen country music evolve in different ways over the last 40 years," she reflects. "Right now it's kind of ending the era of good ol' boys, tractors, pickup trucks, and that kind of thing. Instead, we're seeing a lot more romantic, meaningful, heartfelt songs."
The Oklahoma native says she's thrilled to see that evolution encompass a growing number of gay and lesbian country artists, including Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman, both of whom came out of the closet the same day in November last year. "They're great singers, and if [coming out] makes them happy I don't see a problem with it at all," she says before her sweet southern drawl takes on a fiery tone as she voices her frustration with antigay attitudes. "We're supposed to love everybody, not be so judgmental. If they're happy, then I'm happy for them and I hope they don't get too much flak or criticism [over who they are] because they're talented singers."
She adds, "I think there's room for everybody. I don't see why there's a stigmatism that you've gotta be this way to sing country music. I never knew there was a rule that said that."
McEntire feels the growing number of out artists across the spectrum of musical genres is a sign "not only country music, but the world" of entertainment is growing up by letting go of labels that stifle creativity and confine artists to a limited field of expression. "To me there's only two types of music, good and bad, and I like to listen to and sing the good stuff," she says with an earnest laugh. "Over the years I've done contemporary songs, I've done pop songs that sound country when I sing them, and I've done traditional songs. But at the end of the day I'm not looking for a song that [fits a specific genre], I'm just trying to go out and find the best songs I can possibly find. And when I find a song that touches my heart, well, hopefully when I sing it, it touches your heart too. That's when I know my job is done."
Her ability to touch hearts from all walks of life is part of why McEntire has garnered a fiercely loyal gay fan following over the years, and she readily recalls one of the earliest moments she had with a gay fan who left a lasting impression on her. "One night in the early '90s, shortly after [my single] 'Fancy' came out, I had a gentleman at one of our fan club get-togethers we'd have, and he showed up in full regalia -- total drag -- and it really ticked me off because his hair and makeup looked better than mine!" she says, letting out a deep laugh before continuing. "I was kinda wantin' to get tips! But unfortunately I didn't have time. I had to go and get ready for the show."
Since then the singer says she's seen countless Reba drag queens and she's "absolutely" thrilled every time. "Imitation is a huge form of flattery," she notes.
With her latest album now sitting pretty in the top spot on the Billboard Top Country Albums and earning a solid number 3 on the Billboard 200 all-genre debut chart, Love Somebody proves this country queen's reign won't be ending any time soon. However, the artist who has won more than 90 awards throughout her career says accolades and chart positions are no substitute for the true measure of success. "Having fun with what you're getting to do and being happy, that's how I [measure success], and that's true of any job. If you love what you do and you're happy, then you're successful," she says. "It's just a really good feeling to be in my fourth decade of getting to sing country music, and each day I feel very blessed and grateful."
Nevertheless, McEntire gleefully admits there's one thing she'd count as a major career success if schedules allowed in the near future -- singing a duet with fellow gay icon Cher. "Oh, I'd do it in a heartbeat," she says. "I'd love the chance to do that!"
So would we, Reba. So would we.
Watch the music video for "Going Out Like That" below, and for all things Reba McEntire visit her official website.