She’s been dubbed the Celine Dion of country music, is tied with Reba McEntire for the most CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Awards ever (four, if you’re curious), and well, is utterly gorgeous. But speaking to country mega-star Martina McBride, you’d never know. Her passion is her family – her husband, John, a sound engineer she met pre-fame, and their three daughters: Delaney, 15; Emma, 11; and Ava, 4. McBride took a moment out of her busy schedule – she’s currently on tour with Trace Adkins – to speak candidly about her penchant for cheese fries, talking to her girls about leadership, and the song she never tires of singing. – Andrea Zimmerman
You’ve sold over 18 million albums and won two grammys. Do you still ever wake up and think, “How did this happen?”
Definitely. I’ve been doing it since I was a little girl. It’s such a crazy business. I definitely never take it for granted. Every day I get up and say, “I get to do this.” It’s great.
From afar, you seem so grounded, unlike many celebrities these days. We never see you in any tabloids. Why is that, and why is it important to you?
I just think it’s who you are. It’s the way I was raised; I really don’t work at it. You don’t have to be any different. Being raised in the Midwest on a farm in a small town is definitely a pretty grounded way to grow up. [My parents instilled] hard work and a strong work ethic, and the importance of being kind to people and treating people right – a sense of fairness and a sense of right and wrong.
Shifting gears a bit, we’ve got to ask you about your amazing SHAPE magazine cover where you posed in a bikini. You looked terrific! When did you decide to go for it? Did you get your family’s input?
No, it was my decision. I got the offer and thought it sounded interesting. I started working out a little bit and taking really good care of myself about a year ago, and I thought it was a good way to show that women at every age can be healthy and in shape. And I thought it would be a good example for my daughters, so I said okay.
What did you do to prepare? Please don’t tell us you just naturally have a great body.
Yeah, right. No, it definitely was a little bit of work. All my life I had the metabolism where I haven’t had to really work out – until about four years ago. Things started changing after I had my third baby, and I realized I was going to have to change, clean up my eating and work out a little bit. I’d never worked out before and I really don’t like it very much. It’s a new thing for me. But I don’t overdo it. I don’t have the time for it to be an obsession or a big focus. I work out maybe thirty minutes a couple times a week. For me, it’s everything in moderation. I try to eat healthy, but if I want cheese fries, if that’s what I really want, then I don’t deprive myself. I just try to make good choices.
Do you talk about body image with your daughters? It’s a tricky topic for this generation of girls.
We definitely talk about it. I tell them, first of all, to eat well. It’s not about the number on the scale, it’s about how you feel and if you’re healthy. They’re very athletic and active, and they play sports, so they’re really not obsessed with it. [But] we definitely do see in the media the pressure to be thin. Thin is apparently the ideal.
What’s it like raising your girls in Nashville?
I love it. Nashville is interesting in that it’s a big city but has a very small town feel to it in a lot of ways. There are a lot of good people here, a sense of community, and a good values system – very similar to the value system I grew up with in Kansas. It feels natural. There are enough opportunities here but it’s also very grounded.
What we love about your music is how so many of your songs, like “This One’s For the Girls” and “A Broken Wing,” empower young girls and women. Do you think you’re drawn to those types of songs because of your daughters?
Maybe. Even before I had daughters, I was always drawn to songs that are going to portray women with strength or that give hope and positivity. There’s not much point in the alternative, is there?
Is there one song that you really look forward to just belting out each night?
I love to sing “A Broken Wing.” The important thing for me though is that the crowd really loves it. So when I start singing “A Broken Wing,” I can feel the connection. The fact that I’m singing what they came to hear or that the song means something to them makes it more special.
If you weren’t singing, what would make you the happiest?
That’s an interesting question. It would be great to have a party-planning business or a catering business or a restaurant. I think it would be fun to travel more, but I’d still probably be involved in the music business somehow.
Have any of the girls expressed interest in singing? And how would you advise them if they wanted to follow your career path?
They haven’t really expressed interest – they’ve all got talent in that area, but for some reason I don’t think it’s their passion. So whatever their interests and passions are, I try to provide them with as many opportunities as I can until they stumble upon what really lights them up. Of course, if they wanted to be in the [music] business, I would be extremely supportive. It can be a great life, obviously. And I think they would have realistic expectations for it, having grown up with me. It’s glamorous and fun but it’s also a lot of hard work. You have to be able to deal with rejection and disappointment. But I would tell them to wait. I definitely think they should finish high school. If you’re talented when you’re fourteen, you’ll still be talented when you’re nineteen. It’s important to experience a normal childhood and grow up. Then follow your dreams.
What are they into right now? If you’re talented when you’re fourteen, you’ll still be talented when you’re nineteen. It’s important to experience a normal childhood and grow up. Then follow your dreams.
Delaney’s into photography. She took a class on music and movements of the sixties. She also took a class called filmmaker’s eye – I thought those were really interesting choices. Emma’s into sports. She loves to play basketball and soccer and she loves to draw and paint and write. She said to me the other day, “I used to want to be an actress, but I think I decided I want to be a writer.” My four-year-old is into coloring and Spongebob and drawing. It’s so much fun to see them developing into the people they’re going to be and really discovering who they are.
You’re famously friends with country star Faith Hill. Do you ever swap parenting tips?
Yeah, we do. That’s one of the great things about our friendship. We have so much in common, with the career and raising three girls. We definitely talk about our kids and how to balance it all.
As your daughters get older, they’ll shift into boys and makeup and everything else that accompanies being a teen. Have you and your husband talked to them about that?
I have a really open relationship with all my girls – especially the older two. One is starting high school, one is in middle school, and I have a four-year-old. They’re able to talk to me about anything – boys, school pressure, peer pressure, friends – and hopefully that will continue. Yesterday, my daughter [Delaney, 15] said to me that she felt like she can talk to me about anything. That’s such a great thing because I want to be the person that can help guide her and let her feel like she can open up to me.
But the only way I can help her is to know what’s going on, to know the truth. I’ve always said, “I can’t help you if I don’t know.” I’ve always nurtured that relationship, and so far it seems to be intact. I really don’t think she’ll go on one-on-one dates until she’s sixteen, she doesn’t seem interested in doing that. Her friends are still going on group dates, so she’s not in a hurry.
What surprised you most about raising three girls?
I just take it as it comes. For me, one of the challenges I’m going through right now is that my freshman daughter, she has a whole new group of friends. It seems to be increasing by the day! When she was in elementary school and in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, I knew her group of friends. It seemed smaller and more manageable. But now, she started a new all-girls school, and it’s a whole new group of girls. So she says so-and-so is my best friend, and [the next day] so-and-so is my best friend, and [the next day] she’s my best friend. For me, it’s keeping that log, having some sense of the people she’s hanging out with – and their parents, who they are. And if she goes out, are there going to be parents there, and is it going to be okay?
So who lays down the curfew-you or your husband?
We’re good partners, but I would probably say I’m the tougher parent. They definitely have him wrapped around their fingers – and he’d be the first to admit it. He backs me up, but I’m probably the one that lays down the curfew and the rules.
If you could drive home one message or instill one value in your daughters to take with them through life, what would that be?
I would tell them to be a leader, not a follower. I hope they hear that in the back of their heads when they’re in a group. I think it’s important, especially when navigating their way through peer pressure and making a place for themselves. If you asked them individually, what’s the one thing your mom tells you, that’s probably what they’d say: be a leader, not a follower.