LeAnn Rimes says appearing in 'Coyote Ugly' at age 17 'became a kind of introduction to my sexuality'

LeAnn Rimes was 17 when she appeared in Coyote Ugly alongside Piper Perabo. (Photo: Getty Images)
LeAnn Rimes was 17 when she appeared in Coyote Ugly alongside Piper Perabo. (Photo: Getty Images)

LeAnn Rimes is looking back on her bartop boogie in the 2000 film, Coyote Ugly, which she says "became a kind of introduction to my sexuality, something I could own myself."

Speaking to the Guardian, Rimes, now 40, reflected on the impact of the film, and the accompanying music video for her Diane Warren-penned hit "Can't Fight the Moonlight," on her career and image. The country singer was just 17 when played herself in the film, in which female bartenders are known for dancing on the bar to the delight of patrons. By the film's end, aspiring songwriter and drink-slinger Violet (played by Piper Perabo) has managed to have one of her songs — the afore-mentioned "Can't Fight the Moonlight" — recorded by Rimes, who joins her for a raucous bartop duet. (In reality, Rimes recorded the vocals for Perabo, so was essentially duetting with herself for the film's final scene.)

"The film had already wrapped, but the director decided they wanted to add my song into a scene at the end, so being on set was like a big reunion for the cast and crew," Rimes said of her cameo. "Everyone was in good spirits, it was super-sweet and supportive, but the outfit and the performance were a big change for me. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own sexuality yet, so I had to do a lot of pretending to play the part of a woman with confidence."

Just 13 when she exploded on the country scene with her powerful cover of "Blue" — going on to become, at the time, the youngest Grammy winner — Rimes said that her teen years were a far cry from the happy-go-lucky image portrayed on screen. "I missed out on a lot of things," she noted.

"Until this point in my career I’d been constantly on the road, doing press and working in the studio," she told the newspaper. "I had teen angst, I was hormonal and I had done 500 shows in three and a half years, so I was tired. I hadn’t been to many bars before, let alone danced on top of them."

The film, clips of which appeared in the "Can't Fight the Moonlight" music video, marked a turning point.

"The film was multilayered, but it was centered on women selling sex, whereas for most of my career my identity had been the opposite — it was about everyone around me preserving me as this wholesome child," the singer said. "Coyote Ugly was my step out of that innocence. On the day of the shoot, the costume department handed me these chicken fillets to wear and I said: 'What am I supposed to do with these?' They had to explain: 'You’re meant to put them in your shirt, they make your boobs bigger.' It was a bit of a shock at first but it became an introduction to a different side of myself that I wanted to explore."

The success of "Can't Fight the Moonlight" — along with hits like "I Need You" and "How Do I Live," both of which were also featured on movie soundtracks — helped Rimes realize "I needed to find my own way in the world." Though she and her father have since reconnected, the singer had to distance herself from him in 2000 over allegations that he took more than $7 million of her earnings as her co-manager. She says that "navigating that situation as a teenager was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life."

"It used to be hard for me to look back at photos without cringing at my hair and wardrobe — I was coming into my own in the media spotlight, which is very awkward in many ways," Rimes, who is now married to actor Eddie Cibrian, added. "But now I see someone who was a survivor and a true fighter. Not only was I turning into a woman aesthetically, but this moment marked a pivotal point of asserting my need for autonomy professionally."

Rimes also opened up about her mental health, sharing that she continues to "battle anxiety daily." But she credits a trip to rehab at age 30, to treat codependency and anxiety, with helping her to learn "how to bring joy and play back into my days."

"A lot of my life has been planned out — tours booked in advance, very little time off," she explained. "But now I know the importance of having space to wake up and think: 'What do I want to do today? What brings me happiness?' I love to jump on my bike and go for a ride. I love making candles, and to light the fire in my home. Any form of creativity is important and connects me to who I was as a kid.

"To be 40 and in a place of thriving is something that not many child stars can say they have achieved," Rimes added. "And as for dancing — if I’m given the chance, I’ll get up on a bar, no question."