Bird's Eye View

updated 04/28/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/28/1997 01:00AM

NEVER MIND THE PIERCED NAVEL, the sexy strut and the sassy talk: Nashville newcomer Mindy McCready wants to be a role model. It's the least she can do for the Brat—her brother T.J., 18, who moved in with Mindy and her two dachshunds, Monroe and Lukie, last year. She thinks the Brat and his whole generation could use a little more guidance than their parents were willing or able to give. So Mindy serves up straight talk about everything from T.J.'s smoking ("You smell like a pig") to his love life. "Are you having sex with that girl?" she'll demand to know before sketching out T.J.'s rosy future as a gas station attendant if he gets his date pregnant. "He usually doesn't talk to the girl much after that," Mindy adds with a chuckle.

It's the same brand of straight talk, set to music, that has helped the green-eyed, platinum-haired 21-year-old make the leap from karaoke bars to major concert arenas in less than three years. McCready has already scored a No. 1 country single and sold nearly 2 million copies of her debut album, 10,000 Angels. On April 23, she will vie with Deana Carter and LeeAnn Rimes for Top New Female Vocalist honors at the Academy of Country Music Awards in California. McCready reckons that Rimes, whose own debut album, Blue, has sold 4.6 million copies, is a shoo-in. "She's going to win, period," McCready says. "It's phenomenal that a 14-year-old sings like that." She doesn't envy LeeAnn's life though. "Good God! No school, no boyfriends, no playing Barbies," she says. "It's work."

McCready's fans regard her hugely popular song, "Guys Do It All the Time," as a women's anthem, thanks to its good-natured role-reversing lyrics: "Will you bring me a cold one, baby/ And turn on the TV/ We'll talk about this later/ There's a ballgame I want to see." Even McCready's navel ring—this is not the sort of thing Minnie Pearl wore to the Grand Ole Opry—is making wavelets in Nashville, to the point that some label executives suggested hiding it in publicity photos. McCready responded with a polite, "Hell, no! That's part of me."

Self-assurance is second nature to McCready, who grew up fast in Fort Myers, Fla., after her father, Tim, a Winn-Dixie supermarket manager, and mother Gayle, a businesswoman, split up when Mindy was 9. She was a latchkey kid, responsible for T.J. (Tim Jr.) and their brother Josh, now 16 and living in Cape Coral, Fla., with his father. When she was 18, Mindy made her way to Nashville with the dream of a singing career and a promise to Gayle that she would sign a recording contract within just one year—or else give it up and aim for college. McCready used tapes of her Fort Myers karaoke performances to land a job doing songwriter demos. Then, after 11 months in Nashville, she was signed in 1995 by RCA/Nashville, whose chairman, Joe Galante, was won over by both her vocal talent and star quality. "She relates," says Galante, "and that's what the great ones have always done. When she's onstage you feel like you're with your best friend or your girlfriend or your sister or your granddaughter."

Though still feeling the whiplash from her rapid ascent—"My first record, my first year, my first everything!" McCready exclaims—the videogenic singer has a second album in the works and is beginning to field calls from Hollywood. Meanwhile, as she waits for her first big royalties to kick in—she's still paying off her new Toyota 4Runner and her two-bedroom Nashville condo, as well as saving up to put her brothers through college—McCready hasn't allowed herself much time for dating. "That's okay. I've had three serious boyfriends in my life, and it's not all it's cracked up to be," she says. "I have my dogs."

AMY ESKIND in Nashville

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