05/17/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT
Not the least of singer Kippi Bran-non's credits is a resemblance to the Face of the Decade. They're both 16, the hedgerow eyebrows are there, the clouds of hair, and though Kippi measures only 5'7" to Brooke Shields
' 5'11", the Tennessee brunette is still sprouting. But even if she's flattered by the comparisons, Kippi says they're "getting to be very tiring. I'm not Brooke Shields
and I don't care to be. People ask if I know who I look like and I say, 'Yes—Phyllis Diller.' "
Brannon, of course, didn't get nominated for the Academy of Country Music's 1981 best new female vocalist award by being just another pretty baby. Though Juice Newton, 30, walked off with the prize last month ("She deserved to win and I didn't," reckons Kippi), Brannon's first single, Slowly, did hit number 33 on the country charts last year. Her current single, If I Could See You Tonight, broke the top 50 in just five weeks, and an LP is due this summer.
Born Kippi Binkley in Nashville (her record company thought Binkley sounded "too bubble gum"), she remembers her "all-American, ride-your-tricycle-down-the-road existence" as if it were yesterday. She toyed with Mom's piano at 5, learned Dad's guitar at 7, and grew up admiring Linda Ronstadt, Barbara Mandrell and Don Williams. Her father, a plant manager for a highway equipment company, is her financial adviser. Her mother, Kitti, a secretary, suggested she enter a beauty contest at age 5, but Kippy says, "I enjoyed it. She never pushed me." Kitti concurs: "I never wanted to be a stage mother. I just say, 'Honey, do the best you can.' "
Kippi was discovered by record producer Chuck Howard Jr. while singing at a Nashville shopping mall benefit. MCA records released Slowly last August, and Kippi soon made two long-dreamed-of performances at the Grand Ole Opry.
Kippi writes melodies. But she admits she's not ready yet to be a lyricist, since country subject matter relies heavily on cheatin', and she wouldn't even consider cribbing answers on an Algebra II exam at Goodlettsville H.S. in a Nashville suburb. Between school until noon (she's an A-minus student as a sophomore), household chores and singing the rest of each day, she says, "I've had no time to date, let alone have any deep relationships." In If I Could See You Tonight, she says, "I don't mean the lyrics in a slut sense. I try not to be too provocative when I'm singing slow songs."
With the ink barely dry on her driver's license, Kippi has bought herself a silver Pontiac. "I knew I was making good money," she says, "when I could afford the insurance." That might satisfy most teenagers' wheeled dreams, but Kippi wants a Ferrari. And she may be the only kid on her block who yearns for the real symbol of country music success: a $250,000 Silver Eagle tour bus.