The Trisha Yearwood signature perfume from Revlon will not be available until next February; the book on the making of Trisha Yearwood, not for another year. But even so, the push to make Yearwood, a 28-year-old singer from Monticello, Ga., into a major country-music star is in full swing. There's a dietitian and personal trainer, and an advertising-and-promotion campaign aimed at getting her nominated for various musical awards. As part of an image makeover, she has a new wardrobe and new photos. Broadway director Joe Layton ("Annie") signed on to snazz up her stage show. The wheels are turning.
In this boom period for country music, Yearwood makes an attractive package. She has a strong, warm voice, driving ambition and videogenic good looks. "In the early stages I felt that one of the most important things she had to offer was that she was a beautiful woman," says her manager, Ken Kragen. "We should use that asset." Kragen, 55, is himself one of her more potent assets. A music-industry power manager, he has represented such highprofile stars as Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers, and organized both the USA for Africa project that produced "We Are the World" and the 1985 Hands Across America fund-raising event. He is a starmaker.
But Yearwood's strongest bid for stardom comes from her new album, "Hearts in Armor," the followup to her million-selling debut, "Trisha Yearwood." Hearty and lustrous, muscular in her phrasing, she gives the most powerful performance Nashville has seen from a woman in years. Supported by guests Don Henley, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris and others, Yearwood stands on country roots but looks beyond them as well. "My lyrics are geared to the independent woman," she says. "I made a record that was me. It falls into the country-music category, but if I'd made it 15 years ago, I don't know if it would have. I listen to Linda Ronstadt's old pop albums, and they're as country as my music."
Along with Garth Brooks, Yearwood represents a new breed of country singer, agile both in a marketing meeting and on a stage. Like Brooks, she was raised as much on the soft rock of the'70s as on hard country. The first tapes she owned were of Elvis and Carole King. "A lot of the country people coming out now," she says, " weren't influenced so much by George Jones, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard as by James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg and Linda Ronstadt." And more important, like Brooks, Yearwood came to her career with a college background and a savvy head for the business. Brooks has a degree in marketing; Yearwood, in business administration, with a concentration in the music industry. As she says, "Country music is a business. I'm the head of a corporation, and my name is the bottom line. Even now, I spend one and a half to two hours a day singing, and the rest of the time is the business. Gone are the days of artists totally neglecting the business side and getting taken for a ride."
Yearwood was born and raised in Monticello, Ga., a town of just over 2,000 set about 60 miles south of Atlanta. Her father is a banker; her mother teaches third grade An A student at the private Piemy, she took a two-year business degree at the local community college--"I could have been an accountant," she says-and then, like many another young hopeful, lit out for Nashville. But unlike a lot of young hopefuls, Yearwood had a plan. Instead of hoping blindly to get discovered, she entered Belmont College's program in the music business. After graduation, she worked as a receptionist for Mary Tyler Moore's short-lived MTM country label, developing her contacts, and began to sing on demo recordings songwriters use to pitch their songs. "The thing that struck me about Trisha was that it was evident from the very start that she had a plan," says Garth Fundis, who met her in 1990, and soon became her producer. "Usually, when people approach me [about starting a singing career], I try to talk them out of it. But with Trisha, she had a natural instinct for the business." While cutting demos, she met another young demo singer named Garth Brooks, who vowed that if he ever made it, he'd take her with him. Within two years, as Brooks became the most popular singer in America, Yearwood was singing on his albums and opening his concerts.
With "Hearts in Armor," Yearwood's plan is now coming to fruition. In an industry dominated by men-according to one study, women haven't had such a small share of the country market since 1958she has succeeded as a contemporary woman, without bowing to domestic country archetypes. "There have been certain subjects in the past that women haven't been able to sing about," she says. "But I have not had to compromise what I sing about at all. But there's still the attitude that women don't sell as many records as men, or as many concert tickets." Yearwood is now set to prove that assumption wrong.
The country boom has brought tremendous success stories, but with them, some uncertainty about the future. "The country business is getting more like the pop business every day," says Joe Galante, who ran RCA's Nashville division through the'80s, and now heads the parent record company. "It's more competitive now. People are selling a lot of records, but the careers are going to be shorter. I don't think you're going to see careers like Willie Nelson's or George Jones's." Yearwood is in sync with this new paradigm. "I don't want to be trying to make a hit record in 20 years. I want to have made good investments." This is the new country breed, developing its mantra.