Chely Wright, Country Singer, Comes Out as a Lesbian

Is heterosexuality a job requirement for country-music artists? One award-winning singer-songwriter is about to find out

She was a sensation on country-music charts for 1999's "Single White Female" (a followup to her cheeky 1997 single "Shut Up and Drive"), but now, 39-year-old singer and songwriter Chely Wright -- recipient of both a Country Music Award and an Academy of Country Music award -- is back in the news for her daring declaration to People that she is gay.

Of course, one of the daring things about Wright coming out is that, although she's been writing hits for others (including Brad Paisley, Mindy Smith and Clay Walker) and is the author of the new memoir Like Me, she hasn't charted with her own recordings in years, and could certainly use another hit. Will country fans embrace a musical talent who's also a lesbian, or shun her?

The Kansas City native says that once she began achieving stardom in the country genre, the pressure was on to conform to industry standards for what a successful country singer should be -- namely, not gay. "I hid everything for my music," she tells People.

And according to OK! magaizne, the singer talked in more detail about her struggle to Access Hollywood (during an interview scheduled to air Wednesday): “Early in my life, I went through what I think a lot of gay people go through, thinking that I could change and pray it away.”  Wright added that she finally ended a romance with Paisley (who's now happily married to Kimberly Williams) once she took accountability for the pain her lie was causing: “When I realized he was wanting forever with me… I could see the damage I was doing to him, and I cut him off completely, cold turkey.” Wright has not divulged any details about who she's dating these days.

Nobody can envy famous celebrities who worry they're jeopardizing their success by being who they are. On the other hand, young pop idol Adam Lambert and Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin (not to mention TV superstar Ellen DeGeneres, arguably the nation's biggest music fan) have all come out proudly to their fans, continuing to garner respect and admiration. Still, we've got to wonder, years after talented country rebel k.d. lang first made waves for refusing to embody the role of the sexy, man-hungry Grand Ole Opry sweetheart, is America's country-music scene ready to be more inclusive -- and realistic about the fact that homosexuality is just a fact of life for a percentage of the population -- than ever before? We haven't exactly had our eyes on Chely Wright in recent years, but we'll sure be watching her career now.

PLUS: Ellen DeGeneres Shows Support for Gay Mississippi Teen

Do you think Chely Wright can still be successful in country music, now that she's come out of the closet? Chime in below!

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