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Texas Wrangler

Shelton, 30, who divorced his high school sweetheart last year, "is so great," Lambert says. But she admits: "I was never really into his type of music. It's mainstream country, and I like singer-songwriters, like Chris Knight -- kind of raw country. But I think Blake's a great singer, and I actually like his new album. As a 23-year-old girl, it's something I'd actually listen to and go buy. I just won't buy it until he takes me on that vacation."

Teenage Cheerleader

Lambert is sitting in a corner booth at Cowgirl, a Manhattan restaurant that serves "fine chuckwagon cuisine" and Southwestern kitsch: The tables are covered with plastic gingham, the chandeliers are made of antlers and there are steer horns mounted on the wall next to a Texas star. Lambert is polite and Texas-cheerleader pretty, with perfectly bronzed skin, pouty lips and long blond hair. "And her dimples!" says Devra Dedeaux, one of the restaurant's owners. "They're so adorable." Lambert is wearing a sundress and weathered cowboy boots. A tattoo of her crossed pistols-and-wings logo adorns her forearm.

Lambert is nobody's Nashville puppet and certainly isn't the product of any sort of Music Row assembly line. She writes most of her own songs, cranks up the volume in concert ("We're a rock band with a country singer," she says) and is headstrong enough that shortly upon signing a record deal with Sony Nashville, she informed the company that she was either going to cut the album she wanted to make or she was going home. Smartly, the suits acquiesced: Though country radio gave Lambert a relatively cool reception, "Kerosene" entered Billboard's country album chart at No. 1 -- just the sixth time a new artist had done so -- and went on to sell nearly 900,000 copies.

She celebrated by buying a 400-acre hunting ranch and a John Deere tractor.

Lambert and her kid brother, Luke, grew up in Lindale, roughly 80 miles east of Dallas. It's a small Texas town (population: 3,370) whose motto is "Good Country Living." After Rick Lambert retired from police work, he opened a private detective agency with his wife, Beverly. In the mid-'90s, the couple worked for the Texas attorneys representing Paula Jones in her sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton.

"We investigated the president's sex life," Rick says from his Lindale home. "We were kind of the anti-bimbo squad." More commonly, the Lamberts were hired on child-custody and divorce cases -- work that wound up providing Miranda with a wealth of source material.

When she was 9, her father -- who wrote and performed country songs himself -- took her to a Garth Brooks show, at the height of the singer's popularity. "She came back and said, 'Daddy, I would like to do that someday,' " Rick Lambert says. At that point her only experience was singing in a praise band at church. "I told her she had the voice, and pretty soon after that, I was trying to put a little pressure on her to learn how to play the guitar. But she showed no interest."

That was true, he says, even after he bought his daughter a guitar when she was 13. "We have a saying in our family: 'You raise a child according to their bend.' And at the time, Miranda was doing the dancing and cheerleading and all the things young girls get involved in with their peers."

Lambert went on with her teenage life until she was 16 and heard a radio ad for the True Value Country Showdown. She told her parents that she wanted to enter, recorded two of her father's original songs and was accepted into the competition. She lost but was encouraged by the feedback and soon went to Nashville to cut a demo. She does not have fond memories of the experience, saying the songs she recorded were "awful" and "cheesy."

"I cried in the studio. My dad spent $6,000 to do those demos, and we didn't have $6,000 at all. It was terrible. But he says it was a cheap lesson because I learned in three hours what I wanted to do."

Upon retreating from Nashville, she asked her father to teach her some guitar chords and she immediately started writing songs. "It's the only thing that's ever come naturally to me," she says. "I had to work at everything. I sucked in school. I sucked at sports except for softball, but I had to work at that. I was a cheerleader but always had to stay after. Music was the first thing I did where I was naturally talented."

Lambert began performing with a band around Texas, including a bar 45 miles from home, where she gigged three nights a week, four hours a night. She'd get back to Lindale around 4 a.m., then get up for high school. "It wasn't working," she says. So she graduated early, through, she says, "a program what was supposed to be for kids that were on drugs or pregnant."

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