Reba McEntire ‘disappointed’ with Tennessee anti-drag laws: ‘God bless them for wearing these heels’

Reba McEntire has scored dozens of top 10 country hits, starred in a widely watched TV sitcom, opened a restaurant in her native Oklahoma, and taken home six country music associates. Awards (including four consecutive wins for Female Singer of the Year).

What the 68-year-old singer-actress hasn’t done is headline the Hollywood Bowl — an accomplishment she’ll finally snag on Saturday when her latest concert tour lands in Los Angeles.

A key bridge figure between the pioneering country singers of the 1960s and ’70s (Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton) and the stars of today’s scene (Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert), McEntire made a name for herself singing emotionally detailed songs about women’s lives . But her open-mindedness and sense of humor have also propelled her to one-name icon status well beyond the borders of country music.

Ahead of the Bowl show — as well as an appearance as a contest mentor on The Voice, which brought her together with former daughter-in-law Kelly Clarkson — McEntire sat down for a chat at the Sunset Marquis.

Carrie Underwood, left, Reba McEntire and Miranda Lambert at the 2022 CMA Awards in Nashville.

(Terry Wyatt/WireImage/Getty Images)

They have a lot to do. Why keep touring?
The reaction of the crowd. When you’re up there and that worship comes so loud – it’s a drug.

Didn’t you get enough?
Well, that’s why it’s like a drug. You want another solution, then you want it again.

What’s the best live act you’ve ever seen?
The Eagles. Cher. Taylor Swift puts on an amazing show.

What are you trying to teach the young cast on The Voice?
eye contact. Emotion. I can’t get into tech. Kelly does the trills and runs and all that stuff. I say, “I just want you to look at me when you sing.”

I wonder if fans ever find it overwhelming when you do that at your shows.

Last year, Lambert and Elle King had with “Does he Love You.” How should we think about the climate for women on country radio?
It’s definitely not as hard as Tammy’s [Wynette] and Loretta and Dolly began. And it’s not as hard for the girls today as it was for me when I started, that was almost 50 years ago. We just wanted to be heard, and now the girls come in and say, ‘I want it this way,’ and it’s a given.

Is there a younger artist that you can identify with a bit?
I love Ashley McBryde’s emotions, her heart. She’s a great storyteller and she really commits to a song.

Is there a difference in the way Nashville deals with aging women and aging men?
I was not snubbed because of my age. In fact, I’m busier now than I’ve been in years. I like being busy. I also like to stay at home. But I got a lot of it during COVID.

You spent some time in Oklahoma, where you grew up, early in the pandemic. Her mother died of cancer.
My siblings and I took turns helping Mama. I was just putting a tour together so I had to go back [to Nashville] at a point for rehearsals. They called and said she was very bad and I said I didn’t want to be there when she died. So Susie, my little sister, called and said, ‘OK, she’s gone.’ We flew back on March 15th [2020] choose the coffin. That was a Monday and we were supposed to have the funeral on Thursday. The man from the funeral home said, “I don’t think you can have this funeral.” We asked why, and he said because of COVID. I said, “What is COVID?”

Why didn’t you want to be there when your mother died?
I didn’t want to see her like that. Just before I left to return to Nashville, I sat next to her bed and she slept. I sang to her and she woke up and said, “Did you say something?” I said, “Mom, I just sang your ass off.” She said, “Do it again,” and she fell asleep again .

What’s the best album you’ve ever made?
One of my favorites is that [1995] “Starting Over” album with the songs I wish I had recorded first like “start over‘ That was Dolly Partons.

You recorded so many songs that you must have forgotten some.
Probably about four on each album. People come up to me before a concert and say: “Do you sing?Gonna Love Ya (Till the Cows Come Home)‘?” I say, “Who recorded that?” “You did.” I say, “I don’t think so.”

A country singer appeared on stage in the 1990s.

Reba McEntire performed in 1995.

(Paul Natkin/WireImage/Getty Images)

What is it like experiencing something in real life – divorce for example – after singing about it?
It’s like the knife is in there and someone twists it a bit. There’s a segment on my show that has all the songs with heartbreak: “You lie“, “The last to know“, “someone should go“, “What will I do about you.” I will remember where I was when I recorded the song, what stage of my life I was at. And I’ll be swallowed. I’ve never burst into tears, but some of that scar tissue is coming off. It hurts.

Can you imagine collapsing one night?
I would not go so far. I can look at an exit sign and think about how to spell it backwards and get out of there.

Where did you learn this trick?
Mom told me once – she said, “Are you nervous?” I said, “A little nervous.” She said, “Look at the exit signs.” Takes you out for a bit where you can breathe, get right back in. When you watch an actor it’s always really good until he starts yelling. A tear is so much stronger than the ugly face.

What do you think of the bill that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee recently signed into law restricting drag performances in certain parts of the state?
I wish they would devote as much time, energy and money to feeding the homeless children in these two counties.

Were you surprised that the law passed?

You’ve been around long enough that I have to assume you’ve known a lot of politicians in Nashville and Tennessee. Have you ever taken part in a race or campaign?
I don’t do politics. never have My job is to entertain. I’m not here to influence people one way or the other on how to vote.

And yet you know that your take on the drag bill may alienate some of your listeners.
boy why? I mean, we have a real problem in this country and we’re worried about men wanting to dress up as women? God bless her wearing those heels – I empathize with them. But let’s turn our attention to something that really needs attention.

Maren Morris has spoken about country music being split in half along certain cultural and political lines. Can you identify with this view?
That doesn’t apply to me. I try to avoid disagreements and confrontations.

Are you proud of songs like “Fancy,” about a prostitute, and “She thinks his name was John”, about a woman with AIDS?
I’m very proud that I went with my gut and said, “That’s a good idea.” #1, these are great songs. I went to Bluewater Music [publishing company] Listening to songs, like I did before an album project, and as I was walking out, a guy came into the lobby and said, “Did you play them…?” They whispered no. I said, “Play me something?” The guy says, “Well, nobody else is going to record it.” And I said, “Okay, play it for me,” and they played “She Thinks His Name Was John.” I said, “I’ll take it.”

They liked the idea that it was kind of risky.
I didn’t think of it as risky. I thought, “This is a song about AIDS. I don’t know anything about AIDS, but I know it’s taboo.” You know, when the booger is in the dark, you turn on the light and he’s gone? I thought if I was singing about AIDS maybe I could shed some light on it and people would start talking about it and it would take it out of that scary place. It’s scary enough on its own without making people think it’s scarier than it is.

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