Thirty years ago, redheaded country star wore a red-hot dress to the 27th annual Country Music Association Awards, and she caused quite a stir on the red carpet. While it wasn’t as flesh-baring as, say, Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson’s see-through 1999 Grammy outfit or Rose McGowan’s dental-flossy dress from the 1998 VMAs — and McEntire says it was “granny stuff” compared to today’s wildly sexy awards shows looks — the low-cut gown was racy by the standards of the 1990s’ more conservative country music world, especially because it seemed so off-brand for an America’s sweetheart like McEntire.
“I was pretty, you know, straight-laced, and I’m sure it shocked everybody that I would do a low dress. It was pretty scandalous for me,” the five-time CMAs winner and 51-time nominee laughingly recalls to Yahoo Entertainment, as she looks ahead to this week’s CMA Awards ceremony.
McEntire reveals — no pun intended — that she hadn’t intended to wear such a revealing gown that night at the Grand Ole Opry, where she performed “Does He Love You” with . The dress was designed by veteran Nashville costumer Sandi Spika Borchetta, who now is the executive vice president of Creative at Big Machine Label Group and married to Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta. Spika had assured the singer that the finished look would be more modest.
“The story was Sandi Spika had made it for me, and we had had one fitting at the office. And I said, ‘Now, Sandy, you are going fill this [cleavage area] in here, aren’t you?’ She said, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, we’ll fill in; it’ll be real sparkly.’ I said, ‘Great,’” McEntire explains. “So, we were at the Grand Ole Opry House and I tried it on, and I looked in the mirror and I said, ‘Sandy, this is still really low-cut!’ She said, ‘Oh, I think it’s the lighting in here.”’
McEntire recalls that the first sign that the plunging-neckline gown was going to get a lot of attention was when she encountered a country legend backstage at the Opry. “I walked down the hall and I was going to go stage left, and Kris Kristofferson is walking towards me. And he goes, ‘Wow, you look beautiful tonight!’ I said, ‘Thank you so much!’ I go stage left and I’m getting ready [to perform], and I walk out first and I hear the crowd [roar]. And I thought, ‘Dang, I look good!’”
However, McEntire’s sister, contemporary Christian singer Susie McEntire, and parents were sitting in the roaring crowd that night, and they were simply shocked. “Susie and Mama were in the audience, and Mama just grabbed her arms, said, ‘Oh, Susie…’” Reba laughs. “After the show, we go back to the office and meet up with Mom and Daddy and everybody, and Daddy comes over to me. He said, ‘Reba, did you have that dress on backwards?’ So, yeah… I guess it was a little low.”
Reba says she experienced no real post-CMAs backlash — “Everybody was just surprised; I don’t think anybody burned my records or anything!” — and she never regretted wearing the iconic outfit. In fact, not only does she still own the dress, but it revamped her image forever — and it still fits.
“As a matter of fact, I wore it when Kelly Clarkson and I did ‘Does He Love You’ on the CMAs [five] years ago,” the now 68-year-old superstar says with a smile.
The 57th Annual Country Music Association Awards will take place Nov. 8 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
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