Stars line the way to the Lowes Hollywood Hotel—both on the Walk of Fame sidewalk near the fabled Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and on the streets near El Capitan Entertainment Centre where Jimmy Kimmel hosts his late-night talk show. A quick turn from the garage lands you right in the middle of a red-carpet event with Orlando Bloom. A few steps away, wannabe actors decked out as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and other celebrity icons pose for tourist photos for a few extra bucks.
Welcome to Hollywood, home of soaring success and failed dreams.
Those ups and downs are familiar territory for country star Miranda Lambert, who at 31 has lived her life on both ends of that spectrum.
Stepping into the hotel lobby, Lambert wears a silver concho headband, frayed designer jeans and a saucy T-shirt that reveals her curvy figure. She says she’s been grocery shopping up the street.
“You can’t get fresh food at home like this,” she says in her sweet Texas twang. “I mean, in Tishomingo [Oklahoma] you have to drive a long while just to get to a Piggly Wiggly, and you sure aren’t going to get produce like this.”
I resist the urge to mention that as one of country music’s power couples, she and husband Blake Shelton, co-star of NBC’s hit series The Voice, could probably fly in fresh produce every day to be prepared by a personal chef in either their Los Angeles or Oklahoma home. But that’s not the way the Lambert-Shelton duo rolls.
Now at the height of her career, Lambert has more than a mantelful of awards, including two Grammys, 19 Academy of Country Music Awards and 11 Country Music Association Awards. Most recently, in April 2015, she was nominated for eight ACM categories—including Entertainer of the Year—and took home trophies for Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year. Lambert was also the first country artist to see each of her five albums debut at the top of the Billboard charts.
But as a young girl, Lambert was briefly homeless, and she watched her parents struggle after their prosperous North Texas private investigation business failed in the economic collapse resulting from the 1980s Texas oil bust.
“My parents worked their asses off my whole life, but when you are self-employed like that, sometimes things just go down the tubes, and the phone stops ringing. You just have to start over, and that’s what they did,” Lambert says.
When they lost their home, the Lamberts moved in with Miranda’s uncle, who was a goat farmer. They eventually rented a home in Lindale, Texas, east of Dallas, where Lambert was raised with her brother, Luke, now a software engineer.
“I learned how to do chores because you have to carry your weight,” she says. “After we got back on our feet, we had a subsistence farm where we literally lived off the land.”
The farm yielded rabbits and chickens for the table, while her mother’s garden provided fresh produce. “My mom would say, ‘Go out to the garden and get what you want for dinner,’ and she would make like rabbit stir-fry, and it was good,” she says, grinning playfully. “But you know when you are a kid, you say, ‘I just want Burger King!’ ”
Lambert developed her love of hunting—something she shares with Shelton—from her dad, who shot game to keep the family in meat.
“My dad said, ‘My family will never go hungry again,’ and we didn’t,” Lambert says. “So I guess I got that fighter spirit in me because I want to work, I want to provide, because back when I was a kid, it got ingrained in me.”
Lambert spent the first real money she made buying her own farm. “But I’m not really much of a farmer. I’ve tried to plant a few things, but my husband is the real farmer in the family. He lives to farm,” Lambert says. “He loves to sing, but I think he’d still rather be on a tractor.”
The lessons of her youth stuck with Lambert, and so did the idea of that empire. She just didn’t know exactly what it would entail. “I wanted to use what I had built musically and expand on that,” she says.
Today Lambert describes her life as more “like a circus tent.” In addition to music, she has a clothing and boot business, a winery, an endorsement deal as the first female spokesperson for Dodge Ram trucks, and two boutiques—including one store plus a bed-and-breakfast that helped revitalize her adopted hometown of Tishomingo.
And there are plenty of animals under this big top—six rescue dogs (at present) and two horses, as well as animal-rescue charities.
“Blake says, ‘Miranda! Stop stealin’ those dogs!’ ” Lambert says, laughing as she tells about bringing home stray pooches. “I tell him I’m not stealing them. I’m borrowing them long-term. No matter what, I’m always doing something with animals. I’m not a sitter-arounder.”
Lambert was less busy, though, and a little lost, when she left her base of friends and family in Texas to move with Shelton to Tishomingo. So Shelton, an Oklahoma native who grew up in nearby Ada, suggested she get involved in the community.
“For a while, I was just paintin’ furniture and junkin’, and my husband encouraged me to have a little store,” Lambert says, referring to The Pink Pistol. “I think maybe he knew that it would make me feel like I planted some roots in our new place, and it definitely did that.”
When she saw an old building downtown “just wasting away,” she bought it and turned it into The Ladysmith bed-and-breakfast.
Lambert has also made time for her charities. She and Shelton brought aid to victims of the 2013 Oklahoma tornadoes through the Healing in the Heartland Concert, and she founded MuttNation to raise money for animal rescue and Redemption Ranch, a no-kill animal shelter in Tishomingo. MuttNation recently donated more than $200,000 to shelters in all 50 states based on their adoption rates and fiscal responsibility. She also helps with Popcorn Park Zoo, a New Jersey animal sanctuary.
As disparate as her ventures may seem, there are some common threads. Being a spokesperson for Dodge Ram trucks isn’t such a leap for Lambert, who drives a pickup—and even hitches up a trailer to haul her horses or one of the two vintage Airstream trailers that she and Shelton take camping.
Lambert’s first vehicle was a red ’55 Chevy step-side truck, and it inspired the name of her Red 55 Winery, which is in Lindale. Names of her wines also relate to her life, including album hits Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Kerosene.
“I’m really new to all of this,” Lambert says about the business ventures. “But just like my music, I only do what I believe in. If someone suggested I invest in stocks, that’s just not fun for me. Like riding a four-wheeler—I need to be hands-on. It has to be a physical thing that I can be part of.”
The same thing goes for her fashion lines. Lambert set out to make women feel good about themselves and to provide apparel that wasn’t expensive. “I’m a stickler about making things affordable for people. I want everyone to enjoy fashion,” she says. Her boot and shoe designs came from necessity, when she knew exactly what she wanted but couldn’t find it anywhere.
Lambert downplays becoming one of the most photographed red-carpet glamour girls. “When you say fashion, you are looking at it,” she says, pointing to her ripped jeans and cowboy boots. “This is me every day. The glam stuff, that’s fun here and there. But I felt like I had my own personal style—good or bad—that people could relate to my lifestyle.”
She credits her mom, Bev, with the best advice she’s ever received: “Know who you are and stick with it.” And that applies to music, business, relationships, personal style and everything else.
“In the music industry, I think sometimes artists are pushed in a direction that might be popular, but it’s not the song or the message they want to send as a human being,” Lambert says. “When someone told me to change a lyric or wear this, that just wasn’t an option for me.
“My biggest advice to anyone: If you don’t know who you are, how is anyone else supposed to know? How can you sell something you don’t believe in?”
Bev Lambert convinced her daughter to try out for Nashville Star in 2003. Although Miranda made it only to the third spot on the show, she quickly became a hot commodity on the country music circuit. In early 2006, she began touring with country stars Keith Urban and George Strait.
“She opened a lot of shows for us back many years ago,” says Urban, now an American Idol judge. “The first time I ever heard her voice, it just resonated with me. It is one of those immediately recognizable country voices. You don’t hear those very often. Many people are great singers. Not many singers are originals.
“What I love that Miranda brought to country music is that strong sense of artistry, much like Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire,” Urban says. “They make records on their own terms. They know exactly who they are, they know the songs they want, and they know the way they want their records to sound. Those things are what separate the artists from the acts, and Miranda is very much an artist.”
Lambert acknowledges that she hasn’t left much to chance when it comes to her career. “I have to be careful about how much control I give away. It is my idea and my inspiration. I’ve worked so hard to build my brand in my music career and to be true to who I am, so I want everything to have that stamp on it and to make sure it’s something I’m proud of.”
With her other businesses, Lambert has had to learn to balance her desire to be hands-on with her need to delegate, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less demanding. “I’m literally gone half the year or more, so I want people to run the business as if it was theirs. I want them to take pride in it.”
Shelton has provided a calming influence, though. “My husband always says, ‘Don’t turn [your hobbies] into work,’” she says. “I never take a deep breath or just sit on the couch. Blake can just let it all go, and I’m trying to do more of that because you need downtime to be re-inspired and not wear yourself down. But it’s hard.”
He’s also helped in other ways. Shelton smoothed the chip on her shoulder when she first started in the business. She used to “freak out,” get angry and raise her voice when things didn’t go the way she wanted. Shelton told her to pick her battles.
“If something happened, I’d throw a fit,” she says. “But I think once you’ve proved your point, you don’t have to scream. With a little bit of success, I calmed down. I realized people were listening to me.”
Shelton taught Lambert how to handle the pressure, she says. “He’s a very calm, even person. He takes things as they come, and I’m sort of all over the place.”
When Lambert talks about Shelton (or her animals), her eyes sparkle. Everyone could see the sparks between them when Lambert and Shelton sang their first duet, “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma.”
“There was chemistry right there,” Lambert says. “That was almost 10 years ago. That’s crazy! But I’m just so thankful for having him along for this crazy ride. He knows exactly what I’m talking about on so many things.”
Despite tabloid headlines, Lambert says her marriage to Shelton is rock-solid. And they put in the effort to make it so. “We make a conscious effort to spend time together. If you don’t, you will lose sight of each other,” Lambert says.
“My tip would be, don’t say, I’ll get to it in a week, because no one knows what tomorrow will bring. And we both have times when we say, ‘Put the phone down. There’s nothing on Twitter that is more important than us right now.’ You have to make that effort.”
She allows it’s not easy, because she can get caught up in riding her horses or painting furniture, and he loves to go hunting. While they encourage each other’s hobbies, they sometimes do them together; she recently spent time in a deer stand with him, and he went to a horse show with her. They also try to be together whenever possible when one is working and the other is free.
They collaborate, too. A few years ago, she coaxed him into writing a song about his brother, who died in a car accident when Blake was a teenager. Lambert calls “Over You” a once-in-a-lifetime song because it allowed them to share something so heartbreaking and personal.
“We’ll never have that feeling like we did when we wrote it,” she says. “To share that as a couple, it’s incredible. It just took our relationship to the next level.”