OFFSTAGE: LeAnn Rimes Wows Chicago and Rosie O’Donnell

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

I have no idea why Rosie O’Donnell was in Chicago. Nor do I have any idea why she was at Joe’s Bar for the LeAnn Rimes/Crystal Bowersox concert, but it was great to see her loving all the live music. And after the five-minute conversation I had with her, I realized how completely hysterical she still is.

The show was a fundraiser for the Academy of Country Music’s Lifting Lives charity which helps improve lives through music, so nights like this one help fund groups and programs that are music-focused. So former American Idol finalist Bowersox took the stage first, to the delight of the standing-room-only crowd. Then Rimes came on, in black shorts, a khaki top and stiletto heels. With a four-man band behind her, she belted out Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” like it was her own. Then she welcomed the crowd by explaining how she was kind of a local now.

“I’m almost a hometown girl for a little while. My husband’s [actor Eddie Cibrian] show is filming here. And I love Chicago. Until November. Then can someone keep me warm?” she joked. “It’s a big city with a small-town mentality and good-hearted people.” That earned her a lot of love from the room full of good-hearted people.

Her show was being filmed, so she warned the crowd she might have to have makeup touchups throughout her set, but she asked them to please not think she’s some kind of diva. She never once acted like one, spending the bulk of her 90 minutes onstage telling stories and singing old-school country music (which she described as a “lost art.”)

“Back then, nobody was afraid to sing about what they were living,” she said as an introduction to Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down.” Rimes did other songs from her upcoming covers album, Lady and Gentlemen, like Waylon and Willie Nelson’s “Good Hearted Woman,” but she also did a mix of her own classic hits, an Adele song, and some new ones that she hasn’t even recorded yet.

“I didn’t write this,” she said in introducing “You Ain’t Right,” one of the new tunes. “I did grow up since I was 13. I don’t know if you noticed, but I say a bad word in this song. But it’s validated, you’ll understand. Just forgive me.” The song is unlike anything I’ve ever heard Rimes do. It’s a fast-talking kiss-off song where she gives her man the litany of things she did all day while he was out with the guys. She milked the cow, shaved her legs, washed the dishes and the dog, fed the fishes and the hogs. And that’s just in one verse.

But the highlight of the night had to be her remake of her own country classic “Blue,” the 15-year-old song she debuted with when she was just 13. She said Vince Gill, who is producing the album, had an idea to make “Blue” more up-tempo and give it more swing. “I never got sick of this song, and I still love singing it,” she said. “So this is ’Blue,’ as an adult.” Or, the way I heard it, “Blue” as some kind of honky-tonkin’ question mark instead of a lonesome boo-hoo ballad. I expect it will be a hit again, the second time around.