Lance Bass Protégé Meredith Edwards In Sync With Country

'NSYNC member helps teen singer get a big Reach in Nashville.

Anyone hoping that the music industry's infatuation with youth was just a passing fad got a big wake-up call when 21-year-old Lance Bass announced he was opening a management company last year. A member of pop group 'NSYNC, Bass sent a message to all of the jaded industryites who refused to take young superstars seriously: they're here, they're hot, and they ain't going away.

That Bass' first client would be 16-year-old country singer Meredith Edwards (she turned 17 in early March) therefore seemed somehow appropriate. Bass obviously knows something about launching teen acts; as for entering the world of Nashville, said Edwards, "he has got so many friends in country music.

He is definitely a great manager. He is the guy who has got the connections, he knows people."

Indeed, no sooner had Edwards landed at Bass' Free Lance Entertainment than she was holding a contract with Mercury Nashville in her manicured hands. Her debut, Reach, releases May 15 on Bass' imprint label with Mercury, Freelance Entertainment, while the first single, "A Rose Is a Rose," is at #44 this week on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

Which begs the question: How did Edwards land a gig other 16 year-old girls would give their eyeteeth for? In fact, Edwards reeled in her Bass the old-fashioned way: the two are childhood friends. Both hail

from Clinton, Miss., a small suburb of Jackson. Their mothers are friends, and the two have known each other since both were members of the Mississippi Showstoppers touring group.

"We have known each other since I was like eight," says Edwards. "We used to sing together, we lived in the same town. It's just a really weird connection. He always said, 'If I ever go anywhere in the music

business, I want to take you with me.' " Still, once Bass reached the lofty heights of superstardom, even

Edwards didn't expect him to make good on his word. "But he was like, 'Meredith, I want you to be my debut artist for the management company!'," she trilled. "I was like, Woah! I didn't really believe him!

But we set it all up and it works great."

There are some obvious advantages to having a member of a multi-platinum selling pop group serve as your manager. When Bass squired a virtually unknown Edwards to last year's CMA Awards show, it made headlines in Nashville and beyond. She toured with 'NSYNC last fall, opening one of the hottest tours in industry history. The singer admits to being "really scared" on those first gigs — after

all, 'NSYNC is one of the world's top touring acts, grossing $76.4 million last year, according to trade publication Pollstar. That's more than rockers Kiss or country's own reigning king and queen, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

"I didn't know what [the 'NSYNC fans] were going to act like, if they were going to be responsive or not," Edwards says. "I'm not 'N Sync, I don't sing pop music! But they were great, they accepted it totally. I

was really lucky, definitely."

While cynics may wonder how hands-on a manager can be when he's cultivating his own red-hot artists' career, Edwards claims that Bass is, in fact, very involved in decisions affecting her career. Furthermore, she notes, Free Lance Entertainment is strictly a family-run operation, so there's a familiarity factor there.

Though she vows she's strictly country, the coming months will see Edwards open a few more shows for 'NSYNC, "because that's such an amazing opportunity. To perform in front of these kids that are these

huge fans, it's such great exposure." Negotiations are also underway to put her on a big summer tour, though nothing has been signed at this point.

For an artist whose debut release is still two months away, things seem to be moving expeditiously for Edwards. It's another wake-up call from music's youthquake: they're here, and they're putting down roots.