Editor's note: Reba McEntire will be featured on the new episode of CMT's Top 20 Countdown premiering Friday (Nov. 26) at 10:30 a.m. ET/PT. Check her entire schedule on CMT.
Make room at the family table because Reba McEntire is coming over for Thanksgiving. The country star is tackling the Turkey Day weekend by hosting CMT's Top 20 Countdown, CMT Radio Live and CMT Radio Insider. Amid the stuffed schedule, she's also debuting an emotional new video, "When You Have a Child," on CMT.com. During a recent visit to CMT's offices in Nashville, she graciously took a moment to relay a special holiday message to her fans.
"It's a very special weekend," she said. "I hope that they will remember, think back and be thoughtful of what a great year this has been. Remember people that we've lost. Remember people that have done great things. And if there's someone that they need to say 'I love you' to or 'I'm sorry' to, now's the time to do it."
McEntire also carved out a few minutes to chat about new songs from All the Women I Am, her slow build to country stardom and her ambitious morning rituals.
CMT: You sang Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy" on the CMA Awards without any band or backdrop, which really made people focus on the song. Do you think there's a moral to the story in that song?
McEntire: Oh, absolutely! There's a great moral to the story and to the song. It's trying to get guys to, "C'mon, be a better man." Be a better father. Be a better person. Be a better partner. And I think that's a great song. It's a great message because you can also say, "Hey, gals, the guys are gonna amp up their act. You've got to, too."
I was immediately hooked on the first line of "The Bridge You Burn," one of the other songs on the new album: "You better hold on to that matchbook with his number on it/But not for the reason you think." When you're listening to demos, how crucial is that opening line?
The opening line of a song on a demo is very crucial. I always give a song a verse and a chorus. But if it hasn't gotten my attention before then, I pass on it because everybody is punch-button-happy. They're going to change the channel. ... If it's not going to grab me the first verse and a chorus, it's not going to grab the listener either.
You co-wrote "Somebody's Chelsea" on this record, and "Only in My Mind" is one of my favorite songs from your catalog. Do you have a secret stash of songs that you've written?
No! I don't. I have a few songs that I have written, but most of them are not finished, if I do have a stash. Some are finished but not anything I want to record right now. Maybe later.
February marks the 25th anniversary of releasing "Whoever's in New England." Out of all your hits in the 1980s, what is it about that particular one that endures?
A great song is a great song, no matter what decade or era it's recorded or written. If it is a great song, it will live forever. And I think that's a great song. It has a great melody, a great message. The loyalty from this woman is incredible, which is really weird for me to sing a song like that because I am not that woman. I'm not going to wait on you. If you're off gallivanting around, my song would be "Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' With Lovin' on Your Mind" or "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," probably. But it's funny that I did really hone into that song and like it. It's weird. People have said, "Why did you record it?" I said, "It's just a great song."
You had a slow build to establish your career, rather than an immediate explosion on the charts. What do you remember about that time in your career?
I was totally disappointed in the beginning because I thought when you recorded, you became an instant success. I didn't know anything about the music business. And when my first song, "I Don't Want to Be a One Night Stand," charted at 99 and stayed there, I thought, "Waaaait a second. This is not the way it's supposed to happen." [Released in 1976, the song ultimately peaked at No. 88.] So, finally getting a No. 1 record seven years later, that just wouldn't happen nowadays. I'm very grateful for the education and the patience that my record label showed me and gave me during that time, or I wouldn't be here today.
At what point in your career did you realize you had a keen business sense?
Well, I don't know that I do! (laughs) I do feel like I know what's best for me in some situations. When I feel in my gut that I can suggest a better way to do it than the way we're doing it, that's when I step up and make a suggestion.
Has it always been that way?
No, I learned. I watched and observed. And I learned from great people that have helped me throughout the years. And to go with my gut instinct is a large part of it also.
How does someone's work ethic factor into a career?
I think to be successful in anything in life, you have to give 110 percent and be directable. You need to be coachable. You need to be guided -- willing to be guided -- because you don't know everything. And if you think you do, you're going to be shown that you don't! I mean, I don't know what I don't know. I'm still learning. I've been in this business for going on 30-some-odd years. I think it's the ability to want to learn and want to keep achieving more things. I'm talking about learning how to cook. I'm not talking about winning awards. But every day, if you learn something new, even if it's a word, you're progressing.
When you're planning your next business move, how far ahead into the future do you look? Do you know what you're going to be doing in two years?
No, absolutely not. People have asked me, "What are you going to be doing next year?" I'm like, "I don't have a clue yet." If it hasn't been presented and the thought has not come up, you sit, you wait and you listen. That's what I do. And it will come along.
How important is touring to your overall business model?
Very important! I think not only getting your songs out to the radio and being on television and staying in contact with your fans, but for them to see you live is very, very important. It adds personality. Not only do they get to hear the songs and see you perform, but there's personality mixed in there, too. They say, "Oh, that was funny!" or "I didn't know about that story." So the more they know, sometimes it's good ... sometimes it's bad. (laughs). But hopefully with my fans, it's a plus.
Do you see all ages at your show?
Mmm-hmm. Two to 82. Sometimes older, sometimes younger.
How do you keep yourself in tip-top shape?
I work out. I exercise every day. I eat right, and I get plenty of sleep.
Do you lift weights?
Body weight. Yeah, I do push-ups, sit-ups and dips. I can do my workout in 10 to 15 minutes, and it's every part of my body that I need to.
Do you typically ease into your day, or do you wake up just raring to go?
I go into it stormin'. I love to wake up. I don't like laying there. Narvel [Blackstock, her husband and manager] and I are totally different about that. He loves to lay in bed and watch television and slowly wake up. When I wake up, I'm awake! It drives me crazy to have to lay in bed for any amount of time. I like to get up and go! That's when I get my exercises done immediately, then jump in the shower, and my day's already begun.
And then you go conquer the world.