When Trisha Yearwood turned country music on its ear in 1991 with "She's in Love With the Boy," she also made a lasting impression on a fellow Georgian and future singer-songwriter, Cyndi Thomson.
Thomson's debut single, "What I Really Meant to Say," has topped Billboard's
Country Singles Sales chart for eight consecutive weeks, selling over 78,000 copies, according to her label, Capitol Records.
ballad, featured on Thomson's debut album, My World, out Tuesday (July 31), reached the Top 10 this week on Billboard's
Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. And the video has been on CMT's Top 20 Countdown all summer.
in Tifton, a small town in South Georgia, Thomson knew at age 12 she wanted to be a singer. A year later, while cleaning house
with her mother and sisters, she saw the video for "She's in Love With the Boy," and she knew she wanted to be a country
"I think it was a divine experience," Thomson says in a thick Georgia drawl. Sitting on a living room couch
in her publicist's East Nashville home/office, the 24-year-old is relaxed and conversational as she talks about her life and
music. "God really moves, and I think God specifically wanted me to be in that room, that day, watching that
TV when 'She's in Love With the Boy' came on."
Her three older sisters exposed Thomson to a wide range of popular music
-- including country. None of it moved her quite like Yearwood did.
"I had a Hee Haw album that I loved, and
I loved the Mandrell sisters, but when I saw Trisha, I knew that's what I wanted to do. She wasn't so traditional that it
was unappealing to a 13-year-old."
Now, things have come full circle. Thomson opened for Yearwood four times in July.
"It was strangely magnificent," she says, smiling at the memory. "During the first show, she spoke of me in her concert four
or five times. It was kind of odd for me, because she has been such a big influence on me for so long, and there she was talking
about me on stage."
In high school, Thomson often chose Yearwood's songs to sing at talent contests. She placed second
in a festival at Auburn University singing "Wrong Side of Memphis."
Following Yearwood's example, Thomson moved to
Nashville and enrolled in Belmont University's music business program while pursuing a recording career.
made ends meet as a waitress and part-time model. Working a modeling job at a platinum party for Deana Carter's Did I Shave My Legs for This? she shaved her legs, over and over again. She also made
a contact that would lead to a meeting with songwriter Tommy Lee James, whose credits include Brooks & Dunn's "A Man This Lonely," Martina McBride's "Wrong Again" and Reba McEntire's "And Still."
Based on a recommendation, James agreed to co-write with Thomson, not
knowing she had never written a song.
"My mom told me to always walk like you know where you're going," Thomson says.
"So, I walked in there and pretended I knew how to write. I didn't lie to him. Very casually, I just agreed to write with
him the next week."
Within a year of writing her first song with James, Thomson was signed to Sony/ATV/Tree Publishing.
She quit her other jobs, concentrated on music and became more prolific. The creative chemistry with James has resulted in
more than 80 songs so far. Eight appear on My World, including "What I Really Meant to Say," co-written with Chris
A chance meeting with an old boyfriend gave Thomson the idea for the song that would become her first hit.
The aching lyrics deal with things left unsaid and the masking of feelings in a broken relationship.
"I didn't come
to Nashville to be a writer," she admits. "I came as an artist. But I knew writing was important, and I knew I could do it.
I just needed someone to help me. To write songs, I've been able to call on movies and my life and my dreams and the poetry
I love to read."
James co-produced My World with Dixie Chicks producer Paul Worley.
"He got ahold of my vision for myself," Thomson says. "I wouldn't
call it traditional country. It's just Southern. It incorporates my influences and where I'm from."
is proud of her small-town Southern roots. She wants a long, successful music career, but not at the cost of compromising
the values she learned in Tifton as a member of a loving, churchgoing family.
"I want a good, normal life," she
says assuredly. "I'm from the South, I have a very strong family and my three sisters are all married and have children. I
want that, too."
Thomson has learned already that stardom can make it tough to keep her personal life private. Nashville's
daily newspaper, The Tennessean, revealed recently that she dates Lance Smith, host of CMT Most Wanted Live.
"Lance and I laughed about it and thought it was strange that people find us interesting," she says. "But
I also realize that, in some ways, we are role models and are recognizable.
"I want to know these kinds of things.
I'm like, 'How are Carson Daly and Tara Reid?' I pick up People magazine just like everybody else and wonder what's
going on in people's love lives."