Country singer Chely Wright's career really took off in the late 1990s with such popular country songs as "Shut Up and Drive" and "Single White Female." In 2006, Wright went through a difficult time, nearly committing suicide. Part of her heartbreak came from years of hiding her sexuality. Wright came out as a gay woman in 2010.
From a very early age, Chely Wright knew two things about herself: She loved music and she was different than the other girls. Wright started piano lessons at age of 4. By the age of 9, Wright realized that she was gay. But she put those desires aside to pursue a musical career. "I'd made a deal with God early on that I'll go without love in my life, just give me music," she later explained. From early on, Wright knew that she wanted to be a country star, just like her idol Loretta Lynn.
By the time she was 14, Wright was singing in her own group called County Line. A teenage Wright landed a job at the Opryland theme park, where she imitated the top country singers of the day. She fulfilled a lifelong dream in 1989, when she first performed at Nashville's famed Grand Ole Opry.
Wright moved to Nashville in the early 1990s and first worked as a songwriter. In 1994, she released her debut album, Woman in the Moon, which attracted some positive reviews. Wright won the Academy of Country Music Award for Best New Female Vocalist that year. Commercial success, however, eluded her until 1997's Let Me In. "Shut Up and Drive" proved to be her first Top 20 country hit. Two years later, Wright reached the top of the country charts with the upbeat anthem "Single White Female," off the album by the same name.
Wright teamed up with Brad Paisley for the 2000 duet, "Hard to Be a Husband, Hard to be a Wife." The two singers dated around this time as well. She enjoyed another wave of success with 2002's Never Love You Enough, which also proved to be a strong seller. She developed a strong fan base that admired her for being "so honest and real." In turn, Wright gave back whenever she could, playing for troops stationed overseas. She visited Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places.
Wright had been asked about her sexuality by another country music performer in 2005. Caught off-guard by the question, she denied being gay. But her answer troubled her. Wright was tired of hiding. That same year, she broke up with her longtime partner, a split she felt had been caused, in part, because of her need to keep the relationship secret.
By January 2006, Wright had become severely depressed. Wright took a handgun out of her closet and put its barrel in her mouth, but she decided not to pull the trigger. After nearly committing suicide, she came to some realizations. Wright felt it was time for her to be truthful and open about her sexuality.
Memoir and New Music
After her breakdown, Wright began writing songs. She also decided to write all about her life in a memoir, Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer. Wright came out as the first openly gay country star in 2010, around the time of the book's publication. Public reaction to the news was mixed. Some fans offered their support, while others sent her hate mail. Wright later said that she even received death threats.
Around this time, Wright also released on a new album, Lifted Off the Ground, comprised of many songs written during her recovery. The album spent 13 weeks on the country music charts, but did not break into the Top 20. Wright later said that the sales for the album dropped by half because of her sexuality. "In coming out I had a feeling that it would diminish my wage earning, and that feeling was correct. And, I am fine with that."
Wright married Lauren Blitzer, an author and activist, in August 2011. The couple met while doing advocacy work with young people.
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