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Chely Wright: Country singer on coming out, new doc
NUNN ON ONE: MUSIC
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2012-06-20

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Country music singer Chely Wright stepped right out of the closet in 2010 and her life has never been the same. Known for such hits as "Shut Up and Drive" and "Single White Female," Wright has released seven studio records.

She wrote a book, Like Me, about her life of being a closeted lesbian and a documentary called Wish Me Away really goes behind the scenes.

Wright returns to Chicago to appear live in Andersonville as the frontrunner in a Backlot Bash.

Windy City Times: Hi, Chely. Good to talk to you again.

Chely Wright: When was the last time?

WCT: Right before the big Borders Bookstore signing.

Chely Wright: That was almost two years ago. You need to call me more often!

WCT: Exactly—and I thought we bonded so well. The event was so busy we barely were able to talk there.

Chely Wright: We did bond well. That event was crazy but a good one.

WCT: It was so touching when people in the audience related their stories. You are finally coming back to Chicago.

Chely Wright: Can you make it a little less hot this time?

WCT: I don't know what I can do. It's in the back of a parking lot so not a lot of shade, unfortunately.

Chely Wright: I will hydrate and be fine.

WCT: Wear some sunscreen.

Chely Wright: I was the grand marshal of the Phoenix Pride Parade and performed a few weeks ago. They broke a heat record that had been set in 1949. It was 102 degrees.

WCT: Oh, no!

Chely Wright: So I did the whole parade with no sunscreen. I ended up buying an umbrella from a vendor for my car. As I was in the parade I yelled out, "How much for an umbrella?" It was 20 bucks and that was what I had in my pocket.

WCT: That is expensive for an umbrella!

Chely Wright: I am sure he would have given me a discount but I didn't want to begrudge him his full fare.

WCT: I hope it was a rainbow umbrella.

Chely Wright: It totally was! It ended up making the pictures really great.

WCT: Let's talk about this documentary.

Chely Wright: The theatrical debut is June 1.

WCT: It is called Wish Me Away and goes back and follows your whole journey of coming out, correct?

Chely Wright: It does. They began filming two years ago before I came out as I was writing my book. It was about me preparing my team for doing it the way we did. It also chronicles my entire life and my career. They went back and got archival work just to make sure that the narrative was correct. I think they did a fantastic job.

WCT: It showed the countdown of each day before you came out. It looked like a roller-coaster.

Chely Wright: Yeah, it was. I had no editorial control. It is not my film. It just happened to be about me. When I agreed to do the film and give them access to my life, I said, " Now here is the deal from me. I don't want to see it or be asked about what to put in the film." We stuck to that and I didn't see it until a week before its first film festival appearance.

It was a roller-coaster. I think the way they did the editing really compiled a profound message that I didn't know was in there. It is emotional to watch.

WCT: how are you going to compete with The Avengers?

Chely Wright: I am totally going to kick their butts! I am sure our little documentary will knock it out of the number-one spot. [Both laugh.] I think people that enjoy documentaries are a different breed of people. I know after theater they are planning on an On Demand release on cable networks. I think a lot of people will get to see it in a lot of different platforms.

WCT: You also have your one-year anniversary coming up.

Chely Wright: I do. I am so married!

WCT: Do you have big plans?

Chely Wright: We are going to Italy for a week around that time. We had a delayed honeymoon back in December because we both went right back to work after we got married. It didn't go so well because I had foot surgery but we went, anyway. I just had another foot surgery done yesterday so enough with the foot, right? Hopefully I will be recovered enough to enjoy the Italy trip.

I may be doing the Chicago show in a surgical boot or a tennis shoe. I hope people will bear with me.

WCT: Let me know if I need to get you a chair or something.

Chely Wright: I might have to do a seated set, which is fun.

WCT: You have done it before such at Borders.

Chely Wright: Frankly, that is what I prefer to do when its acoustic with a songwriter-in-the-round type thing, I don't have dance moves so there is not point to me standing.

WCT: You have to sing "Broken" for me.

Chely Wright: That's the one you like? You got it. That's going out to Jerry!

WCT: I saw you perform that one at the Indigo Girls show at the House of Blues.

Chely Wright: Cute—wasn't that fun?

WCT: That was a great show.

Chely Wright: I love the Indigo Girls and they are so gracious. The band and crew is so wonderful. We did a three- or four-city holiday tour.

WCT: I just met Amy Ray face-to-face last week when she was in town.

Chely Wright: She has a neat presence about her.

WCT: When are you putting out some new music?

Chely Wright: I'm writing for a new record right now. I think I have six or seven songs that I really like. I'm also writing a screenplay. I don't know how to write a screenplay but I am. This is how I do things, Jerry. I get things in my head and I have big goals. I like to put every iron in the fire that I can.

WCT: Such as the Like Me organization. What is that all about?

Chely Wright: It is a nonprofit organization that I founded when I came out. Our main project to date is that we just opened a brand-new LGBT center in Kansas City, which desperately needed one. It is called the Like Me Lighthouse. It is a center for LGBT people and their loved ones. If you newly out person in your life then we have the book for you. If you need some guidance and support then we have the connectivity.

It is hard to learn when you are isolated. There is a lab and library with referral services. It makes things a lot less scary in Kansas when you can imagine a beautiful for your child.

WCT: I should get a book for my isolated mother in Tennessee.

Chely Wright: You should get her Ellen Degeneres' mother's book. Betty is not gay but her daughter is, and it tells of her journey. I gave it to my dad when I came out. People need to know there are other people like you. That is why I named my book Like Me. In turn a mom needs to read a book of someone else like her.

WCT: That's a great idea! I saw your sister and her son at the Borders event.

Chely Wright: He has turned into such a man and a great advocate. I am so proud to see him in Wish Me Away. He was 13 at the time and the filmmakers had interviewed him on a couple of occasions. It was really beautiful to hear him say that he didn't know I was gay but before he knew he said bad things about gay people and he really regrets doing that. It is such a powerful moment in the film. You don't know you love someone who is gay until they tell you. That is the power in coming out and being genuine.

WCT: Today they just released the X-Men comic book where the gay characters are now engaged.

Chely Wright: A change is coming, and we are in the thick of it!

Change your plans and head over to the Backlot Bash, 5238 N. Clark St., on June 22 at 5 p.m. For the schedule of the entire weekend, go to www.backlotbashchicago.com .

For more on Chely, visit chely.com .


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