Singer Chely Wright made her first appearance on the Country chart more than 10 years ago. Best-known for the 1990s' hits "Single White Female," "Shut Up and Dance" and "It Was," she's once again achieving commercial success with her latest studio project. Her sixth album is called "Metropolitan Hotel."
With only one Number One song to her credit, Chely Wright has been called one of Country music's best-kept secrets. But that may soon change. The 35-year-old singer-songwriter's new album, The Metropolitan Hotel, has already produced two chart singles, "Back of the Bottom Drawer" and "The Bumper Of My SUV" During Chely's recent visit to the Voice of America, she told the story behind "The Bumper Of My SUV"
"I have a Marine Corps sticker on the back of my vehicle, and a lady really flipped me the bird [made an obscene hand gesture] and cussed me out," she said. "And, it wasn't my driving, we really did have words. And I went home and I wrote this song. Now here's where it gets weird. The song sat in my home studio for 16 months. I forgot that I wrote it. I found it a week before the guys and I went back over to Iraq in September of 2004. The entire trip in the Middle East, we did that song. Shipmen, sailors, airmen and Marines, they all came up and said, 'You gotta record that song.' And I said, 'No, it's almost five minutes long and I'm in between [record] deals. I won't, but thank you, I'm glad you like it.' And then, a young man by the name of Josh Henry, we met him one night, played it for him as we do everyone. We shook hands and he said, 'That's a cool song, you should record it.' And the next morning, Josh was killed in the line of duty. I think that the impact of what that felt like for us to have had such a fleeting moment with somebody. I got back to Nashville and made a recording of it - simple, just piano and my vocal, sent it to Baghdad AFN [Armed Forces (Radio) Network], and it got leaked back to the States within a week, and it went on to be a Number One-selling single for nine weeks in a row. But, it's been a really sweet experience, and probably the most impactful thing in my life, not just in my career, but the most touching thing that's ever happened to me."
Chely is donating proceeds from "The Bumper Of My SUV" to the Stars For Stripes Foundation, which sponsors entertainers to perform for U.S. military troops overseas.
Chely wrote eight of the 12 tracks on Metropolitan Hotel. She says at this point in her career, it's gratifying to record her own songs and write for other artists. Chely recently won her first songwriting award from the performing rights organization BMI for "I Can't Sleep," a song she co-wrote with Country singer Clay Walker.
Chely worked on her new album for nearly three years. She explains how she chose its unusual title.
"In 2002, after we played in Gstaad, Switzerland, I took a couple of friends with me and we hopped over to Paris for a couple days and then to London and we ended up in the Metropolitan Hotel," she said. "On our last night, we had a great dinner reservation, where we were going to see, probably, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna and all these big stars. We ended up staying in my hotel room with a jam box [boom box] and about 100 of our CDs that we had with us, and we had what my friends and I call a songfest. What you do, you get to go one song at a time, nobody gets to play two back-to-back, and you play a song that is a non-skipper on a record, meaning, it's a song that you just can't possibly skip over. At about 2 in the morning, I sat up off the floor and I said, 'You guys, this is what I have to do. I have to make an album full of no skippers.' They said, 'Well, don't you always try to do that?' I said, 'I need to try in a different way, and I need to try with patience and time,' because it really takes time to have the project come together correctly. I said, 'If I accomplish that, if I make the album I'm envisioning right now, I will call it 'The Metropolitan Hotel,' because that's where we were staying. And I feel like I hit the mark and that's what I named it."
Chely's career honors include the Academy of Country Music's 1995 Best New Female Vocalist Award and a Country Music Television Flameworthy Award. And, in 2001, Chely was named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People." But, she says she's most proud of the American Legion's "Woman of the Year" award she received in 2003.
In addition to her lifelong support of U.S. military troops, Chely has worked hard to raise money for music programs in public schools. In 1999, she established the "Reading, Writing and Rhythm Foundation," which has so far given $1 million to schools for musical instruments and equipment.
The latest single from Metropolitan Hotel is Chely's version of a Chuck Berry rock classic from the early-1960s, "C'est La Vie."