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Reba returns to her ‘second home’ to host ACMs

She was that kid in a hotel lobby, almost 4 feet high and belting out a tune. Reba McEntire, age 4, shook the roof with “Jesus Loves Me,” to a bunch of cowboys waiting to check in at a Wyoming lodge. It was her first public performance.

“One of them gave me a nickel, which was the first time I was paid for singing a song,” the 63 year-old-country music legend says.

Reba — who only needs one name — has gotten a bit of a raise since that day. She has sold 56 million albums, which have produced 35 No. 1 singles. It’s fitting that McEntire will return April 7, as host and executive producer of the Academy of Country Music Awards, which will be at the MGM Grand Garden and air at 8 p.m. on CBS. After all, she won 16 times.

Her new CD, “Stronger Than the Truth,” is out Friday.

RJ: What is your idea of a great Sunday at home in Nashville?

RM: I get to stay out in nature all day long. Nature is my church. Out there, I’ll give thanks to the Lord and show him how grateful I am for all the things I do and for the health of my family and for this great nation I get to live in.

Are there any must-stop places for you when you touch down?

I’m looking forward to being back in Vegas. I love that city because Vegas is my second home and I’m so familiar with it. There are so many places to go and dine at Caesars, or maybe we’ll go off campus to hit a few of our favorites. I love Spago. I love Carmine’s in Caesars.

Can you believe this is the 16th time you’ve hosted the ACMs?

I love seeing the performers, both veterans and the new acts. I can’t wait to see my friends Brooks &Dunn and George Strait perform. There are so many great performances on this show. Plus, it’s such a warm atmosphere. That’s country folks.

Ever get nervous before the show starts? Any wardrobe malfunctions in the past?

Sure, I get nervous because it’s a big TV show and it’s live. But once I get the ball rolling, it’s all great. As for wardrobe issues, not even a bad zipper.

You are one-third of the longest-running country music residency (with Brooks &Dunn) in Vegas.

It is a wonderful thing, and we love performing at Caesars. We love being in Vegas. People say to us, “How long are you gonna do it?” My answer is, “It’s up to the fans.” If they keep coming back, then we’re gonna do it.

Do you remember the first time you performed in Vegas?

Of course. It was 1982 and I opened for the Statler Brothers at the MGM Grand. Before that night, I had only played rodeos, smoke-filled bars and honky-tonks. I told my agent, “I just can’t do it anymore. The smoke from the bars and the dust from the rodeo are killing my throat.” The next week, I heard from the Statler Brothers, who asked me to open their shows in Vegas. I don’t remember what I sang that night, but I do remember the love from the Vegas audience.

What do you like to do in Vegas during the day before a performance?

I pretty much stay in the hotel because the dry desert air isn’t good for my throat. I really have to pay attention to it. So I’ll stay in and maybe walk in the Forum (Shops).

Do you get recognized?

I get recognized all the time, but people are so sweet to me. All they want to do is say hi. Maybe get a picture. Then they go on with their business and I go on with my business.

Tell us about your new album. What does the title, “Stronger Than the Truth,” mean?

It’s a real back-to-my-roots-of-country-music album. It’s got two-stepping dance songs, slow dancing songs and story songs. That’s the kind of music I grew up singing. As for the title tune, it’s about this woman who goes to the grocery store. She’s standing in line and hears her name, her husband’s name and this other name. She realizes her husband is having an affair. Then she realizes that there is no whiskey stronger than just knowing the truth.

One of the singles is called “Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain.”

I love that this song actually incorporates a lot of Tammy’s songs. The idea is that when Tammy Wynette sang a sad song, you knew she was hurting on a deep level. The character in that song is going through a real bad situation. I’m such a fan of Tammy’s music. I didn’t have many singles at the beginning of my career and I covered Tammy and Dolly.

But now … 56 million albums sold, 35 No. 1 hits.

I’m very, very grateful, very thankful to country music fans. They’re loyal. They hang in there with you. I’ve had fans who have been with me for over 40 years. That’s a beautiful thing.

Speaking of numbers: What do you know now that you didn’t know at 20?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Quit stressing out about the things you can’t fix. Stop thinking about the things that happened in the past that you can’t change. Live in today.

After those cowboys paid you a nickel at age 4 were you hooked on becoming a singer?

That’s right. That was a thrilling thing. Sure, I did other normal things as a kid. I rodeoed, I worked on the ranch. And I played basketball. I had a wonderful childhood that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But after those cowboys, I also sang “Away in the Manger” in the first grade Christmas show. I was given a mic and got all this attention. I knew this was what I wanted to do, although I also wanted to play basketball for a living back then. And I did want to be a world champion rodeo star, too.

What is it like to be known by one name only?

I’m very proud of my heritage and where I grew up. But people knowing me just as Reba is very flattering.

What’s life like when you’re not working?

I’m not touring an awful lot now. I do Caesars and a few one-offs. I love my time in Nashville, and I love to go on vacations as much as possible! At home, I like to cook. I don’t garden, but I’ll stay outside. It’s nothing extraordinary, but it is extraordinary to me. It’s peaceful, which helps me recharge. That said, we can’t wait to get back to Vegas come June.

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