NASHVILLE Lila McCann's Web site, which counted down to the June 26 release of her third album, Complete, urged fans: "Get ready for a new Lila McCann Web site, a new Lila McCann record, a new Lila McCann."
A new Lila McCann?
"I've grown up a lot in the past three years since people have seen me and heard my music," McCann, 19, explained. "My music has changed. It is not so bubble gum. It has taken on a cooler edge, but it's still not beyond my years."
Once the sweet and innocent girl-next-door type, McCann turns up the heat a notch on her new single, "Come a Little Closer." The uptempo number includes such come-hither lines as "one inch between us is one too many" and "I need you right here, right now."
The tune has a great deal in common musically with McCann's past country-pop hits "With You," "Crush" and "I Wanna Fall in Love." McCann feels the new song shows maturity while staying within the sexual boundaries that her fans and, in some cases, their parents have come to expect from her.
"It's fun, and it's toward what I did on the last album," McCann said of the new single. "I didn't want people to not recognize me at all. I wanted them to turn on the radio and go, 'Oh, hey, that's Lila.'"
On June 19, "Come a Little Closer" became the first video to knock Faith Hill's "There You'll Be" out of the top spot on the "CMT Most Wanted Live" daily countdown, which began airing on Memorial Day. The uptempo number has fared less well on radio playlists, failing to crack the top 40 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart after nine weeks. On the June 30 chart, the song slipped from #43 to #51.
McCann's debut album, Lila, came out in 1997 when she was 15. Something in the Air followed in 1999. Combined, she has sold nearly 2 million albums while juggling a music career and high school.
Until now, McCann has taken her career at a carefully measured pace while maintaining a relatively normal teenage lifestyle. Not home-schooled like many teen stars, she attended Steilacoom High School, a public school outside Tacoma, Washington. She was a cheerleader and went to her senior prom and graduation, just like her classmates. Last June, following graduation, McCann moved to Southern California to live on her own.
"I had the best time in school, and 10 years from now I'll have something to tell my kids," McCann explained. "I can't say, 'I wasn't a kid, I don't know. I was on the road.' I wanted to cherish that time because I knew it was going to be over with soon."
The singer is leaving open the possibility of attending college later. For now, she has put the textbooks down and is ready to give 100 percent to her music.
"For years I was really focused on school, and I had to put singing and performing on the backburner," she said. "This is the first chance I've ever had to fully concentrate on my career. I want to work, work, work. I'm completely focused on it."
McCann landed her record deal with Asylum before LeAnn Rimes, now 18, signed with Curb in 1996. But Rimes got out of the gate first with "Blue" before McCann's debut was released. Since the two singers are close in age, both female and both country singers, McCann has endured comparisons to Rimes ever since.
McCann admits Rimes' success opened doors for her, and she feels that she and Rimes paved the way for young country singers who followed them. At the same time, McCann is glad that her own rise to stardom has been gradual and hassle-free compared to Rimes, who is waging a lawsuit against her manager/producer father and recently lost a legal battle against her record company.
"I'm very thankful the way my career has progressed," McCann said. "It's been slow, but everything keeps going uphill slowly but surely. It was really important for me to build a solid foundation. I'm confident that 10 years from now I'll still be making records and I'll still be successful and be happy with my life."
In her final year as a teenager, McCann is eager to distance herself from the recent country youth movement she helped spark. From Brenda Lee to Tanya Tucker, country has seen an occasional teen star, but an influx of young talent is leading the way these days to an unprecedented degree. Billy Gilman, Jessica Andrews, Alecia Elliot, Meredith Edwards (managed by 'NSYNC's Lance Bass), Kristy Lee (signed to Britney Spears' production company) and girl group 3 of Hearts are among the crop of teenagers who have hit the scene since McCann's arrival.
"I feel old now," she said with a laugh, "because I'm the oldest one out of everybody and I'm only 19. I'm young, but I've had records out for almost five years. I am pretty established."
McCann's experience has given her more confidence when it comes to recording. She handpicked the songs and selected some of the musicians on Complete, and she said her singing is stronger as a result of her self-assurance in the studio.
"Now I listen to my first two records and feel I could have done some things better," she admitted. "I still felt like a kid when those were made, and I didn't want to go in and let it all hang out vocally. I was afraid to try things at the risk of feeling like a dork or not sounding good."