Mindy McCready Returns With Strong New Album

But Singer Is Still Plagued by Past Mistakes

In case you’ve been wondering, Mindy McCready wants you to know she’s doing just fine these days. And she’s laid out plans to do a whole lot better, even in the face of that pesky “sex tape” she tried but failed to suppress. More on that later.

Right now, the much-tabloided singer is busy promoting her first album in eight years. It’s called I’m Still Here. That title has become her triumphant battle cry. For a long time, her being here — at least as a viable recording artist — was in serious doubt, what with the drug charges, probation violations, being physically battered by a boyfriend, losing custody of her son and publicly displaying her woes and weaknesses on Celebrity Rehab.

The new album is reassuring on several counts: Her voice is still strong and wonderfully expressive. The songs (three of which she co-wrote) are well crafted and believable. And it contains re-recordings of her first big hits — “Ten Thousand Angels” and “Guys Do It All the Time” — to remind country fans of why she was such an exciting presence when she first came on the scene in 1996.

It’s also significant that many of Nashville’s top songwriters are represented on the album, among them Gary Burr, Helen Darling, Troy Verges, Hillary Lindsey, Ashley Gorley, Stephony Smith, Trey Bruce and Rachel Thibodeau. Writers of this caliber don’t generally make their songs available to artists they don’t respect.

“They have always come out for me,” says McCready, “whether it’s been a [recording] hiatus of two or three years or this album, which is a pretty far stretch. They’ve always written songs for me, mirroring my life. There’s nothing that’s more of a compliment than that.”

I’m Still Here compiles recordings McCready did with three producers, starting in 2005. “Instead of me making a new record,” she explains, “I decided that this music [I’d already recorded] was beautiful music and that the public needed to hear it.”

McCready has a particularly poignant story about why she includes “The Dance” in her new album. “It was something I recorded for my cousin, Nikki. She was killed in a head-on collision while she was evacuating from my hometown because of a hurricane. She was 21 years old and the youngest girl in our family. She loved that song. The state of Tennessee would not let me leave at that time to go to her funeral. I sent it down for them to play at the funeral.”

McCready started writing the album’s title song when she was in jail for a probation violation. “When I got out,” she says, “Trey Bruce and Rachel Thibodeau helped me finish it.”

If all goes as planned, McCready will tour this summer to promote the album and take TV cameras along to chronicle the experience.

“There’s so much going on in my life right now that it’s kind of crazy,” she says. “We’re finishing up a book, my first autobiography. We’re about to release a TV show — a reality show. And we’re also working on pre-production for a movie. So there’s just tons of stuff going on behind the scenes besides the record. But, to me, the music is my favorite part and most important part.”

The reality show, if it comes to fruition, will be about what it’s like to be a musical celebrity. McCready says she came up with the idea when she was touring with George Strait early in her career. Back then, she was barely out of her teens herself and raising her two teenage brothers.

“I wanted people to see what my life was really like, because even back then there was so much reporting [about me] that was untrue. I wanted people to know that after getting off the tour bus, after performing for thousands of people, I went home and had to help my brothers do homework or go to baseball practice or something like that. It wasn’t this glamorous, crazy, rock ’n’ roll lifestyle that everybody thought it was.

“That [idea] ended up getting purchased by ABC [-TV], and we started working on developing the show into a sitcom since there weren’t reality shows back then. But that’s what the show needed to be, and I think that’s why it’s taken so long to manifest itself. Now my brothers and I are all grown up. [She’s 34.] We’ve managed to live through raising ourselves, and we’re pretty proud of that. The world’s going to get to see for the first time what it’s really like to be me.”

The proposed movie, McCready says, will also be based on her “life stories.” It will involve her in therapy sessions with Dr. Drew Pinsky from Celebrity Rehab, she explains, “going through situations in my life that were monumental and important, whether for good or bad. The movie will tell the story of each therapy session and show flashbacks of what really happened, not just what the news media and tabloids reported.”

On March 25, 2006, McCready gave birth to a son she named Zander Ryan McCready. Because of her ongoing legal and personal turmoils, the court eventually awarded McCready’s mother custody of the child. McCready is suing to get him back.

“My mother has not let me see my child since January,” she laments, “but I have spoken to him on the phone. She was very angry about me talking about the issues from my childhood. So she has taken it upon herself to not let me see my son, which has been a really, really painful and hard thing to endure while I’m trying to start my career again and get everything going. It’s been really rough on me.

“My mom and I have always had issues. She has a new husband and a new life now. She didn’t want the new husband to know about things that happened in her past. It was difficult for me to even make the decision to go on Celebrity Rehab for that reason. I didn’t want to talk about family issues. But Dr. Drew insisted that was one of the biggest reasons I was not able to cope with life and was making so many mistakes. … I had to start at the beginning and acknowledge where it was that I was first taught to make these wrong decisions.”

One of those wrong decisions, McCready concedes, was making a sex tape that eventually fell into the hands of Vivid Entertainment, the California-based purveyor of erotic videos. Vivid released the tape Tuesday (May 4) under the title Mindy McCready, Baseball Mistress, an allusion to the singer’s long-term relationship with pitcher Roger Clemens.

“I did not make an agreement with Vivid or anybody else to do any sex tape release of any kind,” she says. “I have done everything I possibly can to stop it. I don’t want it out there. That’s not who I am. I don’t want to be a part of that industry or support it. If they do release it, I’m going to take legal action.”

However, Vivid has posted on its website a document that purports to be McCready’s assignment of the tape to an unidentified third party that, in turn, sold it to Vivid.

Apart from the sex scenes, the video shows McCready commenting on her relationships with other high-profile men. “Basically what you see is just me sitting there talking to a friend of a friend that I had never met before,” McCready explains. “He was asking about the celebrities that I’d met and the people I’d dated. It wasn’t an interview of any kind. There are several different bits of footage from different times that they put together in the same batch. It’s not nearly as provocative as people think it is.”

As McCready sees it now, every calamity she’s suffered has strengthened her and made her escapades object lessons for others. “I think my life did go the way it was supposed to go for me. … There were mistakes I made that you could call wrong. But I think that every single situation that’s happened in my life has happened not just for me to learn from but for other people to learn from, too.

“I can either be ashamed and humiliated about that, or I can be proud that I was chosen to have that kind of life circumstance put on my shoulders. So when I look back and ask if I would change anything, the only thing I can say at this point that I would change would be to have my son in my arms. As soon as my son’s back with me, I truly do believe that I will feel completely whole.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.