Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Margaret LeAnn Rimes is the only child of Wilbur and Belinda. After little LeAnn demonstrates the ability to sing in perfect pitch at just 18 months, her parents sign her up for vocal and dance class. By age 5, she is determined to be a performer. "I told my mom and dad, 'This is what I want to do,' and I went for it," Rimes tells Interview in 1998. At 6, she wins her first talent contest when she performs "Getting to Know You."
At 8, Rimes becomes a finalist on Star Search, and becomes a popular act, performing more than 100 stage dates a year. She adds to her local fan base when she sings the national anthem at Dallas Cowboys football games, where Texas deejay Bill Mack hears her. Mack, who wrote a song titled "Blue" for Patsy Cline, taps Rimes (pictured with her parents) to record the ballad.
Just two years after telling the Dallas Morning News, "I'm going to be a huge star," Rimes makes the big time with her breakthrough single and album, Blue. Asked to explain the meaning of "Blue," Rimes giggles: "Something about a man and a girl falling in love or something, I don't know." The 13-year-old's album goes on to sell more than 8 million copies.
Rimes picks up five Billboard Music Awards and two Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist, making her the first country artist to win the prestigious award. The Academy of Country Music also names "Blue" Song of the Year, while the Country Music Association hands Rimes the Horizon Award. "It probably wasn't until 'Blue' came out that it hit me that I have this talent that's kind of rare," Rimes tells Interview.
Rimes has two albums in both the country and pop Top 10, with the release of her follow-up album, Unchained Melody: The Early Years. Rimes' hit machine continues with the song "How Do I Live," which spends a record 69 weeks on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. In September, Curb releases You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs, helping Rimes become the biggest-selling recording artist in the U.S. for 1997. But at home, the Rimes family is falling apart, with Belinda and Wilbur separating. "It was hell on me," LeAnn tells EW.
Rimes has her sights set on Hollywood and begins talking to producers. "One of the hardest things for me is having people look at you and say, 'Oh, she's such a cute kid,'" Rimes tells the Los Angeles Times. "I understand why people say that. You only expect so much from someone 15, much less 13, when 'Blue' came out. But I don't call myself a teenager. I call myself a businesswoman." In March, Rimes, 15, begins dating 19-year-old actor Andrew Keegan (right), and in the fall moves to L.A. with her mother.
After taking some time off to relax and workout, Rimes files a lawsuit, alleging that her father, Wilbur, and her former co-manager, Lyle Walker, took more than $7 million from her. In a second lawsuit, she sues her record label and seeks to be released from her contract. "I've got many years ahead of me. All this mess will be over soon," she tells Texas Monthly. In brighter news, she appears in Coyote Ugly (left), and wins a Billboard Award for her work on the soundtrack. In December 2001, Curb Records agrees to restructure Rimes' contract, while in 2002, her dispute with her father is settled on undisclosed terms.
At a rehearsal for the Academy of Country Music Awards show, Rimes, 18, is reintroduced to Dean Sheremet, a dancer she'd met several months earlier when she was dating Keegan. After one date, Rimes tells In Style that she told people, "This is the guy I want to marry." On Feb. 23, 2002, wearing a Vera Wang gown, Rimes marries Sheremet (right). "As soon as she started walking, tears filled my eyes," Sheremet says.
Rimes wisely returns to her country roots with the album This Woman, which sells more than 100,000 units in its first week and debuts at No. 3 on Billboard's pop album chart. The single "Nothin' But Love Makes Sense" becomes Rimes' first top 10 country hit in more than four years. "I'm definitely confident and comfortable," Rimes, 22, tells the Chicago Sun-Times. "I have 10 years of experience, so it's tough to get anything past me in this business. I've become a very strong woman because of all I've gone through, good and bad."
After taking a two-year breather, Rimes releases Family, a fusion of rock, pop, and country tracks, including a duet with Bon Jovi that lands Rimes a nomination from the Academy of Country Music for top female vocalist. "It's taken a long time for people to let go of that little girl that sang 'Blue,'" Rimes tells The State. "I tried to push out of it. I'm changing. I'm a married woman, and I'm 25."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Courtesy of Leann Rimes; Getty Images; amazon.com; Jon Levy/Getty; amazon.com; Ron Galella/WireImage; Getty Images; Ross Pelton/Berliner; amazon.com; amazon.com