Music, TV, movies and Broadway superstar Reba McEntire is absolutely unstoppable these days, dropping the double album “Sing It Now: Songs Of Faith & Hope” (Nash Icon Records/Capitol Christian Music Group) and filming a brand new pilot for ABC, all while maintaining a sizzling Las Vegas residency with her buddies in Brooks & Dunn. Then again, juggling various facets of the entertainment limelight is nothing new for the country singer (who’s also flirted with pop and now gospel) in a career that’s amassed more than 56 million albums sold, 35 chart-topping singles, plus a self-titled sitcom that ran for six smash seasons and continues to find fresh eyes in syndication. The fact that the always in-demand Reba was even able to spare enough time to ring Chicago was a true miracle and she was every bit as sweet as expected while sharing insights into artistry, acting and what fans most frequently say about her ever-evolving role as one of the few entertainers on a first name basis with the world.
“It’s very hard to schedule anything when you’re dealing with television, so right now that’s my first priority other than this gospel album. So when we’re not taping the TV show, we’ll be in Vegas and hopefully we’ll get to do a little tour and continue to get to perform these songs in public off the new album.”
I suppose you could call this project a bit of a crossover from country to Christian, but you’re of course no stranger in crossing over from country to pop. What elements of your sound and style have allowed you to have so much flexibility?
Reba: I think it’s the instrumentation in the songs. When I sing a song, it just comes out the way it always does. That’s Reba. For instance, “From The Inside Out” is very pop in my opinion with the instrumentation we use and how we mixed it. Then you’ve got “I’ll Fly Away” on the other side of spectrum with the dobro and steel guitar. So I think instrumentation makes a huge difference on what genre you put the songs in, but I try to stay with two kinds: good and bad songs. I stay away from the bad and just try to sing the good ones! Those are the songs that I put on these two albums. They are the songs that entertain me and the songs that touch my heart, because if they touch my heart when I sing them, then it will touch your heart if I’ve done my job right. I’m the conduit. I’m the water hose. I’m supposed to get this message to you. What it’s going to be, I have no earthly idea.
What is your opinion of the current state of country music? Is it in a healthy place or have some of these crossing over attempts and new styles been taken too far?
Reba: Well I’m sure 20 years ago everybody said that about my music. It’s cyclical. It will go very contemporary and then it will come back very traditional. All the guys are singing and all the girls can’t even get arrested, then all the publishing companies will say “don’t even write anything for the guys cause the girls are hot right now.” Now it’s the good ol’ boys “taking my truck to the ranch” and “we’re gonna do this on the ranch” and it’s just kind of in that land. I’m hoping it goes back to the more ‘80s and ‘90s traditional country like Ronnie Milsap, Merle Haggard and George Jones, [although] I know those were so sad and tear-jerkers. Everything right now is really happy. Everybody’s in love. But not everybody is in love and we have to have songs for people who aren’t. It will come back into something else soon. Somebody will come out with a song and then everybody will go that way.
Let’s talk a bit about the “Reba” TV show, which always seems to be on the air somewhere and is of course now on DVD. What type of feedback do you get about the program?
Reba: Funny enough, they say more about the TV show than they ever do my music! “Oh my gosh, I love your TV show and I watch it all the time.” This one lady said “you’ve helped me so much. My mom has Alzheimer’s and she watches your show continually over and over. But I gotta tell you, I’m sick to death of your show (laughter). We watch it day in and day out! Come up with something new!” I just laughed. It was really cute. I just got back from the British Virgin Islands, and when I would walk in the airport or a restaurant, people would recognize me. And I thought “what’s going on?” The guy that was helping me with my luggage said, “we get your show down here.” Oh that’s why! It’s really a nice feeling that people, not only here in the United States and Canada, but all over the world are watching the “Reba” TV show.
What are the songs that fans most regularly come up to you to talk about? Are they always the hits or do they throw in some surprises?
Reba: Well number one is “Fancy.” Bobbie Gentry wrote it in ‘69 and had a hit on it and then I recorded it [in 1990]. That’s the number one song people come up to me about. And then there’s “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia,” which is a song that Vicki Lawrence had out [in 1972]. It was her only number one record, and then twenty years after she had it out, I recorded it. And then there’s “Is There Life Out There,” “I’m A Survivor,” “Does He Love You” and “Because Of You,” my duet with Kelly Clarkson.
Don’t forget “If You See Him/If You See Her” with Brooks & Dunn!
Reba: Well, yeah, that’s my song with my boys! We have such a good time singing together. My favorite part of the [Las Vegas] concert is when we sit down at the edge of the stage and us three are there together. I love my time by myself on the stage, but I like it so much better when I’m with them.
Will you be going on more tours at any point or are people going to have to come to you in Las Vegas?
Reba: Well, I sure like it when you all come to see me. That’s the icing on the cake, but a lot of it is determined on this TV show that we’re doing with ABC. It’s a Marc Cherry-written script and we’re shooting a pilot, so with television, you have steps. You get picked up to do the pilot, and if everybody likes the pilot, you get picked up do the first season. Maybe it’s the first 13 [episodes] and then maybe it’s the back nine. It’s very hard to schedule anything when you’re dealing with television, so right now that’s my first priority other than this gospel album. So when we’re not taping the TV show, we’ll be in Vegas and hopefully we’ll get to do a little tour and continue to get to perform these songs in public off the new album.
Last but not least, what can we expect from this pilot and new show?
Reba: It’s a one-hour drama that’s a little dark, but it’s also very witty and well-written. I play a sheriff in a small town in the south and we have a murder mystery. An FBI agent has to come in and help me solve it, which is kind of good and bad. I don’t know that I want the help, but I need the help! One of the best things about this show is the cast of characters that are in this little small town. If you’re from a small town, [you might say] “oh my gosh, that’s exactly like so and so who lived down there,” so people can relate to this cast of characters!
For additional information on Reba, visit Reba.com.