Seven months pregnant with her third daughter, Hill is forced to deliver the baby via C-section after an obstetrician's visit reveals that her amniotic fluid is dangerously low. "It was an emergency," she tells PEOPLE. "We didn't know what the outcome was going to be. We said a lot of prayers." They are answered. Weighing 3 lbs. 11 oz., Audrey Caroline is born and whisked into neonatal intensive care, where she stays for three weeks. "I couldn't hold her for the first few days," Hill says. "That was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life."
With 472,000 copies sold in its first week, Hill's album Cry debuts at No. 1 on Billboard's Top 200 Album Chart and becomes the highest Soundscan debut for any Warner Bros. recording artist. EW calls Cry, "her stab at soul" adding that she has "traded in farmland anthems for lite funk."
Hill makes her acting debut with a bit part in the big screen remake of The Stepford Wives. According to Salon.com, she addresses fans' concerns about the glammed-up role and that she's left her country roots behind on the track "Mississippi Girl," from her 2005 release Fireflies. "Well I spent a few weeks in California," she sings on her twangiest effort since 1998. "They put my face on the big movie screen/But that don't mean I've forgotten where I came from/That's just me chasing dreams."
After Hurricane Katrina, Hill packs up her tour bus, borrows a semi and drives with McGraw from Nashville to Gulfport, Miss., with a truckload of supplies. "We went straight to the Red Cross headquarters and unloaded the trucks," she tells PEOPLE. "I wanted [people living in the shelter] to know that we as a country have not forgotten them."
Taking the whole family along for the ride, Hill and McGraw headline the Soul2Soul II tour. The 55-city jaunt breaks every country tour record, generating nearly $89 million in sales as they perform a combination of duets and solos. "I love to see her come offstage and go, 'Yes! It was awesome,'" McGraw tells PEOPLE. "And I say to her, 'Oh yeah? Watch this!'"
When Carrie Underwood is named female vocalist of the year at the CMA awards, Hill is caught by a backstage camera throwing up her hands, then screaming "What?" in disgust. Hill's manager tells PEOPLE that the singer was just joking. "She was being playful while the nominations were being read and playful after." Hill adds in a statement: "The idea that I would act disrespectful towards a fellow musician is unimaginable to me. Carrie is a talented and deserving [winner]."
After releasing her greatest hits album, The Hits, Hill graces the cover of PEOPLE. She talks about the two incidents that turned her into a YouTube sensation: chastising a fan for grabbing McGraw's crotch and making a face when Carrie Underwood beat her at the CMA awards last year. The singer explains the CMA reaction was a joke and describes the fallout from the clip as "the worst experience of my life". "It was hell," Hill tells PEOPLE. "I was being ripped apart limb by limb. I wanted to quit."
For the first time in her career, Hill poses in a bikini on the December cover of Shape. "It was so hard, but ultimately so worth it," says Hill of the fitness regime behind her toned physique. "Wearing a bikini on a magazine cover is my 41st birthday present to myself." The country singer tells the mag she was prompted to try Pilates after knee surgery forced her to quit exercising for six months. "I could bend in ways I haven't been able to since I was a teenager. My husband loves it!"
Hill and husband McGraw kick off a special series of concerts at Las Vegas's The Venetian Theatre called Soul2Soul. At a press conference months earlier, the couple promises a "personal" show that features duets as well as the country crooners's solo hits.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Kate Lilienthal/SPLASH NEWS; Eugene Dailey/American Red Cross; Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty; Denise Truscello/WireImage