Barbara Mandrell was serenaded by Martina McBride and George Strait at the recent CMA Awards , and she was still glowing from the performance of “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” when she visited the pressroom backstage a few minutes later.
“It’s just very overwhelming and marvelous and exciting and thrilling,” she exclaimed to a room full of journalists. A two-time CMA entertainer of the year (1980 and 1981), Mandrell recalled attending her first ceremony, sitting way in the back of the Ryman Auditorium wearing a gown made by her mother.
Asked if it really is harder for women to make it in country music, she replied, “Yes. I mean, I scream more for men than I do women. … It’s like one of the females can do a big production number and maybe do some dance steps and work really hard at it. And a really handsome male artist can just kinda do something with the hips and they all go, ’Ahhh!’ But that’s just human nature.”
She also reminisced with reporters about how unusual it used to be for women to headline concerts — and to take a male artist as an opening act.
“When Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and I started having our own shows, as the headliner, we would book a male to open for us,” Mandrell said. “That may not sound like anything because it’s so normal now. Believe me, it was not normal. It was always a great male star with a cute little country girl singer opening. It was hard but anything worth having is worth working for. I think all of the women, especially that are here tonight, are all doing it right. They all know how to entertain. It is hard, and I congratulate all of these women here tonight, and all of these men, because they’ve taken our industry way up. Way up! It continues to grow and that’s the way it ought to be.”
Mandrell confessed that she had been teasing Kellie Pickler all night, pinching her rear end about four times over the course of the evening: “She’s just fun and funny and I’m crazy about her!” One of the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Mandrell also took time to praise co-hosts Brad Paisley (“he’s so funny and he picks so good”) and Carrie Underwood (“just too gorgeous for words and her voice is too gorgeous for words”).
When one reporter asked about her feelings about today’s country artists, Mandrell replied, “In my career, it happened quite frequently that someone would make a comment in a very negative way and a critical way of my being too [interested in] production, and Las Vegas-y and too much show biz. But that’s my passion. We make our recordings for people to enjoy on the radio, or listen to at home or wherever, but that’s recorded. When you go to see a show, it’s a show. Show ’em something. That was so important to me. And as I could do more, I would do more.
“Now, that’s what’s so fabulous. They’ve got all the production. They’re giving a magnificent production to people who come to see them. Not just where you feel like you might as well have stayed home with the recorded music. It’s something to really get into and to see. I think that’s wonderful. I also think we’re not hurting for talent out there today. It’s so diversified. It’s spectacular. We’ve got something for everybody.”
Mandrell also shared her thoughts on Taylor Swift, who is only the sixth solo female artist to win the top award. (Mandrell was the third, behind Lynn and Parton — and the first person to ever win it twice.) “Taylor’s writing is beyond words. She is so together,” Mandrell said. “And whoever’s doing everything with her, guiding and directing … it sounded like she, too, is at the helm of what she’s doing, even though she’s so nice and beautiful and young. So I think it will be exciting to watch where she takes it. Like I said, she entertains you. But so do all of our other nominees for entertainer. I mean, amazing sets and production and all of that. … No, I love our business. I have nothing negative to say about it. Music is a creative thing. It cannot stay the same. It has to change constantly and I think it’s wonderful.”