Archive for Friday, May 14, 2010

Time out: Kansan Chely Wright becomes first openly gay country star

Country star and Wellsville native, Chely Wright.

Country star and Wellsville native, Chely Wright.

May 14, 2010


Audio Clips
Chely Wright comes out, speaks out

Country music revels in tales of infidelity, alcoholism, abuse and failure.

But until this month, one character trait was all but unforgivable.

You couldn't be gay. Not in Nashville. Not around mainstream country audiences.

Chely Wright challenged that last week. The Wellsville native came out to the world ... and braced for the response.

The announcement coincides with the release of her seventh studio album, "Lifted Off the Ground," and her first book, a memoir titled "Like Me." Already the declaration has caused major ripples in the music industry and the world of pop culture. (She graces the cover of the May 5 issue of People magazine.)

"I'm so glad I named my record 'Lifted Off the Ground,' because that's how I feel. I'm glad I didn't name it 'Broken,'" Wright says, referring to the title of her latest single. "That would have been awful."

The 39-year-old Wright first earned her place in Nashville's elite after being named best new female vocalist in 1994 by the Academy of Country Music. She followed up her early promise in 1999 with a No. 1 country hit in "Single White Female." In 2001, she even landed on People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People list.

But amid the accolades - and high-profile romances with stars such as Brad Paisley - Wright harbored a secret. As her career progressed, it became increasingly difficult to keep her true sexuality from the prying eyes of Nashville. The internal struggle eventually resulted in the singer-songwriter suffering an emotional breakdown.

During a plane delay while readying to fly out of New York's LaGuardia Airport, Wright took the time to speak to the Journal-World about her recent revelations.

Q: Are you happy with how you're being portrayed in the media?

A: Honestly, I haven't looked at anything in the media. I've been off the grid for about six weeks. ... Obviously, I'd be stupid to think there weren't any negative reactions. But by and large I've been told it's been incredibly powerful and positive, and that my doing this has given voice to a community, that as far as country music fans, has not existed. I can tell you how I feel personally: I feel incredible.

Q: Did you make a conscious decision to not read any press since you came out?

A: Yes.

Q: But you'll still read my article, right?

A: That's the only one I'll read, and I'll tell you why. When I was in first grade, I got a job where I threw the Lawrence Journal-World. I was the papergirl. That's what I did every day in Wellsville. I threw maybe 150 papers.

Q: Were you pretty good at it?

A: I was the best they'd ever seen. I could sling a paper - even the Wednesday and Sunday paper - from my Huffy bike and land it on a porch better than anybody.

Q: Did your impending revelations affect how you approached the material on "Lifted Off the Ground"?

A: I didn't know I was going to come out as I was writing this record. In fact, I didn't plan on coming out until halfway into the recording process. It was a series of events that had led up to that. When you make a record and release it, you have to talk openly to reporters and radio folks and fans because they ask, "How did you get the idea for this song?" For the first time ever, I have no co-writers on this record. ...

I started to realize, "Holy crap, how am I going to be asked about these songs and explain this record? I'm talking about my broken heart, I'm talking about 'Object of Your Rejection.' I'm going to have to make up a fake boyfriend from Argentina." My reality was creeping up on me again, and I knew I'd surely find myself in a dark place again.

Q: Have fans gone back and started to reinterpret lines from your old songs?

A: A guy that runs my Facebook and social-networking media did tell me last night that people have started to do that. It wouldn't be wrong in doing that. There were a couple of songs, one in particular called "Picket Fences" off of the "Single White Female" album: "Little boys and little girls dream of big, big things / They're taught at a tender age just what life should bring / Get a job, say 'I do' and settle yourself down / But what about those of us whose lives are still spinnin' around." That song is about what happens to people who aren't going to have the traditional life. It really surprised me that no one ever really read into that song.

Q: Do you improve with each record?

A: No. I think I should, but I don't think I did. There were times when I was coming off the road exhausted and going in and recording songs. I recall calling my label and saying, "Why are we tracking this week? I don't feel ready." They would have a stack of songs and say, "Let's just try." That's an expensive little effort. I don't think I improved.

The 'Let Me In' record was the best record I made on MCA, followed up by "Single White Female," which was the most successful record I ever made, but it wasn't my best. "Never Love You Enough" was the most fragmented, crazy record. "The Metropolitan Hotel" was a half-assed effort. I was really trying to step into a new me so I could be a relevant singer-songwriter. Then "The Bumper of My S.U.V." happened, and I got seduced by the radio airplay.

Then I went in and tried to record what I thought radio wanted. I remember my thought processes. I know what happened. ... We all make decisions based on "how do I continue to have enough success so I can make art?" Even the greatest artist of all time did commission work and painted the ceiling of a chapel.

Q: You're not the first singer-songwriter from Kansas to come out. How is your situation different from that of Melissa Etheridge?

A: Well, I'm a country music singer. That's what's different, I guess. To compare one's coming-out experience would be absolutely insane because everyone's coming-out experience is dynamic, emotional, difficult, scary. I don't care if you live in Manhattan or L.A. I don't care if you grew up with gay parents. My best friend is gay and his mother is a lesbian, and it was scary for him to come out. So I don't ever try to compare anyone's experience. That Melissa Etheridge did have an event coming out tells all of us that there was a time that she did hide. That alone says she felt an impetus to hide. ...

When she came out, I wept. I was so thankful, and I remember wishing that I knew her because she's from Kansas.

Q: You mention an exchange in the book with John Rich of Big & Rich in which he openly confronted you about being gay, and when you denied it, he said, "Good. Thank God." Why was that conversation so damaging to you?

A: It was a perfect storm. It was layers and layers of fear and rejection. I can't blame my implosion on him, but John was just part of the recipe of fear and rejection, at that time, of 15 years in Nashville. I've got a line in my song 'The River' - "I moved here to Nashville on May 12, '89" - and today is May 12, 2010. I've lived in Nashville for 21 years. That's a long time to hide a secret. And when John Rich made that comment to me in 2005, he was just the straw that broke the camel's back. At that time John had a lot of power. I didn't feel physically threatened. But I'd never been asked the question before.

Q: You've been quoted as saying you "fully expect to lose my country music career." Does that imply you're ready to shift your career to another style of music?

A: I don't know if I can do that. ... I don't know if another genre of music is ready for a former country music singer who just came out.

Q: Has this whole experience changed how you view the country music industry?

A: Someone pointed out to me the other day that I still refer to the Nashville community as "we" and "us." I now live in (New York) - although I still have a home in Nashville - but when I talk about Music Row and the industry, I still feel like I'm part of it. In some ways that town has caused me a lot of fear and anxiety. But it needs to be said that town is also the town that made my dreams come true. It's broken my heart in some ways, but if I could tell you how many e-mails and letters I've gotten from Music Row people and radio people since I came out, it would boggle your mind. Also, I have to tell you how many people have come out to me and asked me to keep it a secret. ...

I was told that in my hometown school, the day I came out, three kids walked to the principal's office and came out. This is important. I'm really proud of Nashville and proud of country music. I know that some of the biggest haters have done their dirty work quietly. But it's not lost on me that a lot of people are standing up for me and speaking out on my behalf. That's what I'm focused on. And I'm incredibly glad and grateful.


Marty Olson 8 years ago

No offense to Ms. Wright, but is she not aware of k d lang? Did I miss a reference somewhere? If I did, I apologize... I'm certainly not making light of Chely's situation, but there have been others in this place previously, birthplace not withstanding.

Marty Olson

Melissa Kounelaki 8 years ago

kd lang had already moved away from the country music genre by the time she came out publically. She also never lived in Nashville, which I'm sure is big factor. She'd stopped being played much by the country music stations when she came out against eating meat, which was a couple years before coming out as a lesbian.

Kirk Larson 8 years ago

I don't know about that. Maybe it was just the crowd I ran with, but I knew k.d. was gay before the meat bruhaha.

H_Lecter 8 years ago

If I were female, I'd absolutely be gay too, Can we just pretend I am?

Flap Doodle 8 years ago

I'm sure she has lots of cowboy fans.....

christy kennedy 8 years ago

"No one knew who she was. Now, all of this free publicity and she is getting her name out there."

I'm sure she had a lot of fans already and so more people know about her now—big deal. You either like country music or you don't. She's a talented and brave woman who I hope can just be herself and anyone who turns away from her is the loser.

drake 8 years ago

Back when I knew her she went by Michelle and she certainly wasn't a lesbian then.

Gareth Skarka 8 years ago

Dragging the rednecks into the modern world, one lipstick-lesbian at a time.

love1another 8 years ago

Since you can't even get her name correct, it is Richell and not Michelle, then I believe you are a liar. Plus I hardly think you can magically peer into her heart and know if she is a lesbian or not.

ozzynbn 8 years ago

Still like her music. Her orientation makes no difference to me. I hope her other fans stand by her.

dru442 8 years ago

"Single white female, looking for a "woman" (it was originally recorded as "man") like you?" That song does not have the same ring to it now!

make_a_difference 8 years ago

Good music is good music regardless of the orientation of the writer/performer. People who would reject someone or their work/art because of their orientation are the ones who lose.

Deja Coffin 8 years ago

Good for her! I knew about her just because she was from Wellsville but I do enjoy some of her songs. Her relationship preference doesn't change my thoughts of her music for good or bad just like when I found out Melissa Ethridge was gay. Now that's a kansas girl that can rock!! It's just sad that when you're gay and your lifestyle is known, so many people judge you for good or bad on your lifestyle while as a straight person, I'm never forced to justify my relationship or be a role-model for the straight population......thank goodness!

ivalueamerica 8 years ago

You realize every time a country start gets married, announces she is pregnant, talks about his girlfriend or her boyfriend, introduces his or her children, kisses or holds hands with his or her partner or wife, they are putting in our face who they sleep with...oh...but you have a different standard for that.

It is called bigotry and it is disgusting and shameful to be a bigot.

ivalueamerica 8 years ago

you of all people, lol.

Bigots are people who have double standards for those different than them, be it because of color, faith, sex, sexual orientation, weight or whatever. It is telling someone they are less than you and do not have equality because they are different. It is vile and disgusting and to me, bigots are no different than rapists, child molesters, murderers or any other sort of dreg. In fact, some say bigotry has killed more people on this planet than any other disease. If you excuse it or ignore it because it is just a small thing, it grows like a fungus, so when I see it, I attack it because it should not be allowed to grow.

J Good Good 8 years ago

She said that she is telling people because she wants kids growing up to know that it is ok to be gay. That even country singers can be gay. That you shouldn't have to hide who you are. It is more than what you do in your bedroom. It is who you love, who you want to spend your life with. Is your relationsip with your significant other only about what you do in the bedroom?

Sunny Parker 8 years ago

The next you know she'll be in the whitehouse!

ksjayhawk74 8 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

jayhawkologist 8 years ago

Will someone please tell me why this is important, let alone newsworthy?

MojoCatnip 8 years ago

Actually it's not newsworthy, but it IS important. Important to her and any other musicians that identify with her. Since this is basically a human interest story, we should just accept it as that.

Although I wouldn't go so far as to call this a media stunt, this is definitely a media strategy, a fact that is not denied by her publicist. Although I understand the timing of this announcement in those terms, I have to say unfortunately that it does sort of sour the emotional credibility of this tale in my opinion.

yankeevet 8 years ago

Yea; really who cares about this.....................woman........

Quigly 8 years ago

Who? Never heard of her. Country star? Who is she?

parrothead8 8 years ago

"Nothing to see here, move on."

You'd like that, wouldn't you? Anyone who you think is outside the norm or makes you feel uncomfortable should just disappear. It'd make your life a lot easier, huh?

phoggyjay 8 years ago

Sounds like a lot of people are struggling with their own attraction to the same sex. They lash out against anything that has to do with homosexuality or bisexuality. Just go with your feelings, they're completely natural. If you can't... the culprit is religion.

phoggyjay 8 years ago

If you mean they accept people for who they are, then yes.

phoggyjay 8 years ago

Well, hopefully you are one of those people who accept others no matter of their sexual orientation and doesn't discriminate. Love ya none2.

greenworld 8 years ago

Why does people that are gay have to announce that they are gay like its suppose to make the news?? I dont get it. When I figured out that I was straight I didnt get a loud speaker and scream it. I dont know why people make such a big deal about whether you are straight, gay , bi or whatever. Its really not that big of a deal.

outtatowntownie 8 years ago

Because when gay people start suddenly dating people of the same sex, SOMEONE is going to announce it, providing they're dating in a similar manner as straight people - like going out to dinner together and showing signs of affection towards one another in public.

Gay and bi people usually feel the need to prepare their friends and family for the eventuality that they may bring someone home that is the same gender. Most folks need a little time to wrap their heads around that (unfortunately), and it's better to process through whatever fallout will happen before introducing a boyfriend/girlfriend.

If no one freaked out about people being gay, we wouldn't feel the need to "soften the blow" by announcing our sexuality before living our sexuality by dating or partnering whoever we're attracted to.

password 8 years ago

"You couldn't be gay. Not in Nashville. Not around mainstream country audiences." According to this article the mainstream country audiences in Nashville suffer from homophobia. How sad....

Randall Barnes 8 years ago

once again all i will say is one man one woman.

outtatowntownie 8 years ago

Why? What actual, tangible effect does the joining of two men or two women in marriage have on you or your life? Please, I want to know.

riverdrifter 8 years ago

She should hook up in a business deal with Garth Fundis. He would handle her career well from this point on. Ask Garth Brooks.

Garth, Garth, Garth. Sheesh...

lawrenceRezident 8 years ago

Woo Hoo your'e gay! Do you want an award? Oh my god! Why do people find it necessary to tell the entire world about their sexual presence? Keep it to yourself! Do I talk about how straight I am? Big deal... Your'e gay! Get over yourself!

outtatowntownie 8 years ago

Do you ever talk about who you're dating, or mention your kids if you have any, or talk about who you're attracted to? If so, yes, you talk about how straight you are.

The fact that gay people have to think twice before speaking about those things is the reason it is necessary for everyone to be honest and open about their sexuality.

igby 8 years ago

Country music is a turd bobbing corn cob-fest these days anyway!

Chris Beilman 8 years ago

Publicity stunt perhaps? I’m sure there are some strong implications of such and these are my thoughts (no references or cut and paste junk) on this article. Being her 7th album, I’m sure Vanguard will be evaluating the results of the sales. They are probably looking at either retaining her contract or letting her go pending the results, which is business as usual in Nashville. Her market value to sell records is bound to decline in a stale economy mixed in with the recent floods could just be her last record with Vanguard. The release of her new book shows a new direction and the fact that she is gay is irrelevant. Being a writer, as well as an artist would be the obvious path for her to pursue at this time. I tend to believe that all of this is tied to a career move and making adjustments to life after Nashville. Good luck Chely

fully_baked 8 years ago

If John Rich thanked God that Chely was "straight," I guess he has to blame God now that she's not? Someone should ask him. Good luck, Chely.

james bush 8 years ago

She's just another manifestation of the liberal, if-it-feels-good-do-it tatooing and punching holes in yourself. (Actually that fad can't feel good, can it?) And it avoids the std and pregnancy opportunity. Bizarre is in vogue. Does she smoke dope and shoot up too?

outtatowntownie 8 years ago

Being gay isn't bizarre... That's the point.

chasmo 8 years ago

What scares me is that people like you actually get to vote.

outtatowntownie 8 years ago

Oh, and comparing marijuana smoke to shooting up heroin... you are totally a product of the government pot propaganda. Pot doesn't make you end up sitting in a corner in a pile of your own feces.

mr_right_wing 8 years ago

Wait a fiddle pickin' minute...

Doesn't anyone remember K.D. Lang?

I'm pretty sure she 'came out' at some point; not that she needed to...just look at her. Don't need 'gaydar' for that call!

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