It's 87 degrees and humid, but stretched out with a glass of sweet tea on the swing outside the pool house of her Tennessee mansion, Reba McEntire isn't sweating the heat. "I love the humidity," says the singer. "My skin drinks that up."
And after spending most of the past decade in Los Angeles, filming six seasons of the TV sitcom Reba
and watching son Shelby, now 19, graduate from high school there, McEntire is just happy to be back at the 80-acre spread outside Nashville, catching up with old friends and taking in the view of the lake beyond her back door. "We love it here," McEntire says of the home she shares with her manager and husband of 20 years, Narvel Blackstock. "The beauty of it. It's just so green. It's magical." Not that she has much time for kicking back. The 54-year-old singer releases her 33rd album, Keep On Loving You
, Aug. 18 and has booked a full schedule of tour dates and appearances in support of it. It's her first solo studio album in six years, the first since artists like Carrie Underwood
and Taylor Swift, both less than half her age, took up residence at the top of the charts, and she's clearly relishing the challenge of reasserting herself as country's reigning queen. "Competition fuels me," she says. "I look at the charts, and I want to know where I am and whom I have to beat out. It's more fun that way."
The new CD, she says, was inspired in part by her 2008 tour with good pal Kelly Clarkson
—"I would sing harmony with her on 'Miss Independent,' and doing a song like that, that's sassy and has attitude, I liked that a lot"—and in part by her near constant need to reinvent herself. "Narvel always says I have the attention span of a 2-year-old," she says. "I can't be bored. I haven't been bored since God knows when because we're always looking for new things to do."
That passion for change extends to her home as well. Built in 1969, the house had fallen into disrepair by the time the couple bought it in 1989, and it wasn't love at first sight. "It was dark and cold, the yard was overgrown, and Reba was like, 'Oh, no, no!' recalls Narvel. "But I kept talking to her about it. It was in really poor shape, but I knew it could be incredible." After four major renovations, the house has nearly doubled in size. "It started off with just 'Hey, let's increase this...' " says Narvel with a laugh, "but with remodeling, once you start, you keep going." Now the four-level, six-bedroom home is a cozy, sun-filled showplace. "Narvel is the decorator; he's got a great eye for things like that," says Reba. "The junk and clutter are all mine and the nicely placed stuff is his."
The lower level features a home theater, wine cellar and arcade where Shelby and friends take on Rock Band and other video games.
The glass-top table in the living room is the scene for game nights where the couple play cards or board games like Sorry! and Sequence with their five grandkids, ages 4-16. (Narvel has three grown children from a previous marriage.) And the second-floor gym is where Reba does her daily Pilates workouts, part of her strict diet and fitness regimen. "It's a lot of work but my body deserves it. I deserve it," she says. "It's hard to turn down fried green tomatoes and dessert, but as a friend of mine used to say, 'Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.' "
While Nashville will be home base for the next few months, the couple are still keeping their homes in L.A. and Mexico—and keeping their options open. "Right now I'm very focused on my music and touring," says McEntire, "but I'm open to doing more TV, movies, Broadway. The first night we spent in this house was the night we brought Shelby home from the hospital. Now he's starting college. We really don't know what the future holds, but I like that. That's what's exciting."