Nothing to Cry About

Faith Hill Focuses on the Positive

By Elianne Halbersberg
Inside Connection

 

Faith Hill vividly remembers the first time she heard herself on the radio. "I was visiting a station in New Orleans and the gentleman said he had been playing [her first single] ĎWild One,í which confused me because the record wasnít out yet. But he put it on for me. The first time I heard it in Nashville, I was in my car and I nearly wrecked! I screamed, hollered, cried and called my parents! The first time I saw the video with the little ĎCMTí in the right-hand corner, I was at home cleaning, had the television on, heard it, ran into the room and cried! But the car radio had the biggest impact because it was a big dream all my life, so the first time was really special."

Since her 1993 debut album, Take Me As I Am, Faith Hill has sold over 25 million records worldwide, garnered 10 No. 1 singles and 11 No. 1 videos. Her 1999 release, Breathe, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold over 8 million copies. Her recent release and fifth album, Cry, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums charts. Over the past three years alone, she has received Grammy Awards, Peopleís Choice Awards, American Music Awards, CMAs and ACMs. Two years ago, she co-headlined the Soul 2 Soul Tour 2000 with her husband, Tim McGraw, resulting in one of the yearís most successful and top-grossing tours.

Growing up in Star, Miss., Hill made her debut public performance in church at age 3. Her first record was an Elvis album, and at 17 she joined a band. "We worked together for a year and a half, playing rodeos, parties, wherever we could sing in Mississippi Ö except for clubs," she says. "I wasnít allowed to play in clubsómy mom didnít want to raise me like that! But she was really excited for me and she wouldnít have changed what I was doing for the world."

The small-town upbringing was ideal for fueling Hillís dreams and providing fundamental values for life away from home. "There isnít any kind of industry in Star," she says. "The people make up the town, and they are the most wonderful people Iíve ever met. Itís family oriented, everyone is involved in school and church. Thereís not much to do besides those two things, but I love going home. Everybody wants you to do good things, but in a small town you pretty much graduate and get married. A lot of people go to college, but mostly you marry, have children and go to their football games. When someone jumps out of the nest and takes on an unknown challenge, the support you get from there is really good because theyíre all very proud. Itís special."

She was 19 when she moved to Nashville, and says she might as well have been in New York City. "It was that big to me, very overwhelming and hard. I didnít know anything; it was totally different than I ever dreamed. I had only seen the music business on television and been to a couple of concerts. I had no clue. I sat back and soaked it in and it was frustrating because there are a thousand people trying to do the same thing. You walk into a restaurant and the waiters are all singer/songwriters. People come here to follow their dreams. But there is so much more than singing and writing. Those are the easiest parts by far. It takes talent, timing, persistence, meeting the right people."

She spent several years as a receptionist at Gary Morrisí publishing company, never letting on about her own talent. A writer heard her singing when she thought she was alone in the office and asked her to demo one of his songs. From there, she began backing songwriter Gary Burr at the Bluebird Cafť and was discovered by Warner Brothers Records. During this period, she also landed a merchandising job for Reba McEntireís Starstruck Entertainment. Being around her longtime idol would prove invaluable when the time came to record "Take Me As I Am."

Warner Brothers signed her when she was, in her words, "very naive, with eyes wide open," but made no effort to change her or create an image. "It never happened, honestly," she says. "Warner Brothers is really good about letting their artists be themselves. Some artists donít know what they want when they get signed. I knew what I like to wear and what I donít want to do. If you come into town and take the first thing thatís offered to you, that ĎIíll make you a star,í you will have to do what they tell you. I was very young when I signed my deal, but I had strength about what I wanted and they said, ĎWeíll take what you have and make it better.í There are terrible stories in this business; a lot of people get hurt. I was very lucky that it didnít happen to me.

"Watching Reba taught me that there is no substitution for hard work. As successful as she is, she works harder than ever, keeps striving and pushing. She showed me how important the fans are who call radio stations, buy records and write letters. It impresses me that someone will take the time to write you a two-page letter just from hearing your song. In country music, more than any other, people are so real; fans feel a part of what youíre doing. Itís easy for those of us in the industry to forget how music can change someoneís life."

She credits her tenacity to upbringing and spirituality. "Itís still a big part of me," she says. "Thatís where my strength comes from. Itís my foundation. I was raised in a Christian home and it prepared me to deal with life on my own, the everyday trials and tribulations in an industry where a lot of things, morally, arenít good. Having a backbone of spirituality makes me a little stronger. I pray a lot, and when I first moved to Nashville, thatís what kept me alive. I believed I was being taken care of. I apply it to my life every day. Itís how Iíve always looked at things. Iím very lucky: Iím healthy, I can see, hear, walk, get up in the morning and focus on the gifts God gave me, and everything will work out. Everyone has bad days and bad luck. Learn from your mistakes; learn from the bad, dwell on the good and youíll be all right. Itís almost a fairy-tale answer, I know, but when I wake up in a bad mood, I try not to stay in one because I have a lot to be thankful for. It comes from my family, mostly. Learn to make the best of what you have."

In a world that places too much emphasis on the lives of celebrities, Hill doesnít take the attention lightly. "I feel a responsibility to my fans, especially the young ones, absolutely," she says. "You better believe it affects me if I catch wind of something in the press that I didnít say. Children are easily influenced and I always want to do things I can be proud to show my kids someday. I donít take on a big responsibility of ĎI have to do this for the kids.í Itís just the way I am.

"The best advice I ever received was from my mom. She taught me to not judge people until Iíve walked in their shoes, and to be thankful for the gifts Iíve been given. That applies to every aspect of my life. It keeps me away from gossip, helps me dwell on the positive and makes me a stronger person."