It was a plaque bonanza at Chely Wright’s gold album party for Single White Female, held Tuesday (Aug. 22) afternoon at Nashville’s BMI offices. It is customary for an artist to hand out gold plaques — representing sales of 500,000 copies — to a few key figures such as managers, producers and label presidents. Wright, however, unveiled a wall of framed mementos bearing her likeness and handwritten notes to people who have had a hand in her career. Overall, she handed out 90 accolades to label personnel, her publicist, producers and the distribution arm of Universal Music.
“Let’s not lie, [MCA Records President] Tony Brown makes a lot of money, and he doesn’t need another plaque. He can afford to buy his own actually,” Wright said after the presentation. “It’s the people who work in the mailroom and the marketing folks and interns that you look at and feel bad because you haven’t gotten them one.”
Wright also recognized her band at the party, which until just recently included two members of Rascal Flatts. The new trio already has a Billboard Top 5 single, “Prayin’ for Daylight.” Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney were onhand for the celebration to congratulate their old boss.
“She was actually my first job in town with an artist,” Rooney told country.com. “I played lead guitar for her, and I met Jay through her. I owe her the world.”
“One thing I can say about Chely is she was always in sight of her goals,” DeMarcus added. “She worked so hard I think she inspired everyone around her. She’s been wanting this for a long, long time and she deserves it.”
Also among the well-wishers was Wright’s new writing partner, Brad Paisley. The two recently collaborated on “Hard to Be a Husband, Hard to Be a Wife,” a duet that will be included on two upcoming Grand Ole Opry compilation CDs.
“I’ve never seen anybody work so hard,” Paisley said. “She takes the music very seriously.”
Wright has indeed been inching toward her first gold record since she released her debut album in 1994. The next year she won the Academy of Country Music’s top new female vocalist trophy but failed to win much radio airplay. She moved over to MCA in 1997 and just last year charted her first No. 1 single, “Single White Female.” Through the long, sometimes frustrating process, she never lost sight of the prize.
“I know there are better singers and better writers and prettier girls, but I’m convinced in my heart that nobody can outwork me,” Wright said. “Tony Brown even said that, when he signed me to MCA. He said, ‘I’m not signing you because you’re the best thing since sliced bread. I’m signing you because you made it through all that crap without getting a bad reputation for being bitter or frustrated.’”
Wright is wrapping up production on a new album, due in April 2001. She admits she’s anxious about following up the success of Single White Female.
“This time around we’ve been pitched better songs, and I’ve written better songs, but I’m nervous,” she said. “I want to have another No. 1 record, and I think we have it on this new record. Also, we did just find a great song today that we’re going to cut. I talked to Tony and Buddy [Cannon] and we all heard the same song. It’s called ‘Love Wouldn’t Listen,’ and mark my words, it’s going to be a hit record for me.”
Disney has tapped Wright for the soundtrack to the animated film The Little Mermaid 2. The singer has always cited the original The Little Mermaid as one of her favorite movies.
“I was told they were writing a whole new soundtrack, so I was kinda bummed that I didn’t get to sing a song from the original,” she said. “But they said, ‘Au contraire mon frere, we decided to bring one song back.’ It’s the theme song, ‘Part of Your World,’ and that’s the one they asked me to sing. It’s one of my favorite records that I’ve ever made. And now my nieces think I’ve arrived.”
Continuing her personal campaign to promote the Grand Ole Opry, where she debuted in 1989, Wright announced she is linking her new website, chely.com, to the Opry’s site. She also plans to have a monthly “Opry Star Spotlight,” which will feature an Opry cast member of Wright’s choice and her five favorite tunes by that artist.
“We’re just trying to continue raising exposure to younger fans,” she explained. “We want them to know about the Opry and Connie Smith and Loretta Lynn and Porter Wagoner.”
Wright will compete for the Horizon Award at this year’s CMA Awards, Oct. 4 in Nashville. She said the competition is “fierce,” and she’s a fan of several of her fellow nominees, including Paisley. MCA Records is sending out a promotional mailer to CMA voters featuring Wright in a slinky black dress on the front. The shot was taken in New York during a fashion shoot for website fashionwindow.com. Catching her first glimpse of the mailer after the gold party, Wright was a bit surprised.
“I’m thrilled with the pictures that came back,” she said. “But I can’t let my father see them or I’ll be grounded.”