Chely Wright made a pact with God when she was 9 years old: If he let her become a country music star, she wouldn't tell anyone she liked girls.
"I said I will always hide if you just give me music," Wright tells me. "I will go without love in my life. Just give me music."
Fast forward to today…
Wright, 39, has come out of the closet. She details her life—including a 10-year relationship with a woman that ended under the unbearable strain of keeping it a secret—in a new memoir, Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer.
Back in the late 1990s, Wright became a household name among country music fans with hits like "Shut Up and Drive" and "Single White Female." The Academy of Country Music awarded her Top New Female Vocalist in 1995.
Why is Wright going public with her sexuality now? "It was a matter of life or death," she says. "I hit rock bottom and I had a gun in mouth." And she means that literally. Fortunately, she didn't pull the trigger.
"There are rumors in the industry about me," she says. "There are whispers. I know there are. But I'm not OK with being a whisper anymore. I'm not OK with being an industry joke, a nudge or a joke over a beer."
She later adds, "You can insult me and say, ‘She's a bad singer. She records stupid songs.' But you can never insult me with the word lesbian. That doesn't get to be used as an insult anymore."
Wright also writes candidly about a romance she had with Brad Paisley about 10 years ago. She abruptly ended the relationship but never really explained why. She wouldn't even return his phone calls.
"What I did to him and what I felt like I had to do to him was unusually cruel," Wright admits. "My hope is that [Like Me] will fill in some of the gaps." (Paisley declined to comment for this story.)
Wright, whose new album Lifted Off the Ground has also just been released, is single these days. She splits her time between Nashville and New York City. "I'm scared to death," Wright says of coming out. "But I feel like this is what I am supposed to do. I'm ready for it."
As for that deal she made with God, she says, "There's a reason the courts don't allow anyone under the age of 18 to sign legal documents, because you shouldn't be brokering deals like that. You shouldn't be arranging big life decisions when you're 9 years old."
Perhaps one day she'll get the chance to take a girlfriend to a big country music awards show. "I used to fantasize about walking down the red carpet with my partner all the time," Wright says. "I've imagined it my whole life."
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Chely Wright joins a growing list of celebrities who have been coming out, including Wanda Sykes. Read what the funnylady told me recently right here.