Gretchen Wilson Photograph by Mark Reitoff
Chris Willman
January 20, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

Gretchen Wilson made our 2004 Entertainers of the Year list

You know that car commercial where the guy’s belting out Shania’s ”Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” to the chagrin — if not the homosexual panic — of his fellow passengers? Cute, but it probably doesn’t happen much in real life. Whereas we can verify sightings of men singing along with Gretchen Wilson’s triple-platinum debut album — nuggets of Southern feminism like ”Well, I ain’t never been the Barbie doll type” and ”You might think I’m trashy, a little too hardcore, but in my neck of the woods, I’m just the girl next door.” Pale men with reasonable-size belt buckles…who hail from effete coastal areas. (Not to get too personal about it.)

It’s the 31-year-old Illinois native’s gift that she’s able to make almost anybody aspire to being a ”Redneck Woman.” ”I don’t think there’s been a country female that was that big of a phenomenon, ever, first rattle out of the box,” says Wilson’s writing partner, Big & Rich’s John Rich. With Here for the Party likely to end the year as 2004’s sixth-best-selling CD, Wilson can now rightfully claim the crown — or jewel-encrusted cowboy hat, anyway — as country’s new queen. Naturally, record labels are busily searching for clones. ”I hope with all my heart there’s no girl out there that’s being forced to sing Gretchen Wilson-type music,” she says. ”My first couple of showcases, I tried to be what they wanted me to be, and by my last couple, I was saying, ‘This is who I am. Do you like it or not? ‘Cause I’ll go somewhere else if you don’t.’ And it wasn’t until I got that attitude that people liked it.”

Her transformation from teen bartender and high school dropout to quadruple-nominated Grammy belle could be described as a fairy-tale story, if not for the fact that Wilson eschews dresses and tucks chewing tobacco behind those high cheekbones. ”Well, it is a fairy-tale story,” she laughs. ”I’m just not a princess.”

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