Since first picking up a guitar at age 16, Miranda Lambert has made a name for herself and caught on faster than a Texas stampede. At 19, she found fame as a finalist on USA Network's Nashville Star. At 20, she recorded her first gold record (Kerosene, which sold 40,390 copies its first week out). In the next two years she opened for George Strait and Keith Urban. Now 22, she's touring with Dierks Bentley and will release her sophomore CD in 2007. And she did it all by writing not only her own songs but her own rules. "I know what I want, and I don't like to be told what to do," she says.
Against the odds, Lambert turned a third-place finish in Nashville Star into the four-year-old show's one true success story so far, selling almost as much as the combined debuts of the first three winners. "She's one of the brightest country lights to come out of Texas in quite a while," says Casey Monohan, director of the Texas Music Office. "She has so much charisma, and with the phenomenal success of Kerosene, she's got a lot of confidence." Lambert's combination of all-American looks, headstrong personality and provocative songs gives her a dimension lacking in her rivals. She's independent enough to boast, "I have a concealed handgun license!" in one breath, then demur, "I'm really lucky to have the family that I have—even my extended family like my grandma and my friends. They're so supportive, which makes me feel good. They'd love me even if I quit tomorrow."
Raised with younger brother Luke in Lindale, Texas, by Beverly, 47, and Rick, 55, a private detective who also plays the guitar, Lambert recalls growing up "sitting on the porch listening to my dad play Merle Haggard. I was kind of ingrained that way. And I think that has a lot to do with who I am now."
That would be the pride of Lindale—her picture adorns two town billboards—a self-described "blonde chick" with a tattoo of her logo (two shotguns crossed with wings) on her left forearm and a vintage Chevy pickup in her gravel driveway. She also has a celeb boyfriend—fellow country star Blake Shelton, whom she's been dating for several months. "I have a great dad and brother, so I grew up with good men," she says. "That's how I set my standard."
Just before her 21st birthday, Lambert bought a bright red three-bedroom bungalow with a white picket fence just yards away from her parents' home. That's where she hunkers down during the 40 days a year that she's not on the road.
"My house is just like my mom's," she says. "We like things to be homey. Sometimes when you buy new things, they don't have character. It doesn't seem warm." All seven rooms are crammed with thrift-store finds (she bought her brown vinyl couch at the Salvation Army for $50) and quirky collections of old posters, LP covers and memorabilia.
More souvenirs spill over into the Miranda Lambert Store and Fan Club Headquarters that she opened some six months ago in Lindale right next to the town water tower. Tourists from 23 states have already come to buy jewelry, concert merchandise and her own hand-painted cowboy-hat creations that she sells for $40. "I used to sell my Texas cowboy hats at shows for gas money when I first started," she says. "I bought a cowboy hat at Wal-Mart, painted it and put some bottle caps around it."
Outside the store, picnic tables and umbrellas are set up for impromptu performances by local singers. When Lambert's in town, she drops by every day to mingle with friends and fans. But if you happen to see her, be sure not to cross her. Lambert's been known to throw a punch or two. "The most memorable time," she says, "was when a guy in a bar told my mom to move her big ass. I was like, we know she has a big ass, but you can't say that. I have one too. We're just built like that. It's our heritage. But it's in style. And if it's not, it's about to be. I'm going to make it happen."