If there were still such a thing, singer-songwriter Laura Bell Bundy would make the perfect Hee Haw Honey.
"Giddy On Up," the debut video from her new album, Achin' and Shakin' (to be released April 13 on Mercury Records), is already an online sensation (streamed more than 1 million times less than three months after its January 18 premiere). But there's more than meets the eye with this bawdy babe than her saucy storytelling and country's best bare midriff since Shania Twain.
Consider her legally blonde ambition. A seasoned performer who began her professional career at the age of 9, Bundy originated the Broadway role of Elle Woods in the musical production of Legally Blonde, earning a Tony nomination, and made appearances in other Broadway musicals (Hairspray, Wicked), popular TV shows (The Guiding Light's Marah Lewis, Cold Case, Veronica Mars) and major film productions (Dreamgirls and 1995's Jumanji, as the youngster who grew up to be Bonnie Hunt's character).
Besides celebrating her birthday on April 10 and her CD release three days later, this is a mega-month for Bundy, who encompasses the brassy vocal qualities of Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles.
• Earlier in April, it was announced that "Giddy On Up" is in the running to be one of the final nominees for Female Video of the Year and Breakthrough Video of the Year at the 2010 CMT Music Awards in June. (The first round of online fan voting continues at cmt.com until May 3.)
• Bundy will talk with host Evan Farmer on CMT's Top 20 Countdown show this week, with multiple showings beginning April 9.
• Her first major performance with a full country band, taped March 17 at the Ben Folds Studio in Nashville, will appear online as part of the Walmart soundcheck series beginning April 15.
• Then Bundy will show a national television audience what she has to offer when she does her "Giddy On Up" song-and-dance live at the Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS on April 18 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. From there, she will fly to New York for an April 20 performance on Good Morning America.
So with the pressure building as Bundy is properly introduced to a relatively new fan base, prospective members of her cheering section might want to get in the spirit by knowing:
1. First and foremost, she's one Funny Honey.
In an era of by-the-book blandness and pre-packaged political correctness, Bundy tells it like it is - no matter how warped her sense of humor might be. If CMT gave out an award for "Most Refreshing Artist," Bundy and Emily West would be the front-runners.
Pausing on the phone, she apologizes during an interview in late March. "Excuse me, I'm having a Sprite burpie (moment). It gives me a little gas."
Regarding her personal life, Bundy admits she's turning 29, "the year my birthday stops," and says she's single, but "emotionally unavailable," after just getting out of a relationship.
2. She's a (Kentucky) blue blood - when it comes to basketball. Born in Euclid, Ohio, Bundy moved to Lexington, Kentucky at an early age and was raised on the intricacies of University of Kentucky basketball. Her grandfather, Wayne Bell, did radio news and sports announcing in the area, and was the host of an interview show with coaching legend Adolph Rupp.
Season tickets have been in her family for "30 or 40 years," and during this interview in March, before the Wildcats were upset by West Virginia, Bundy was counting on seeing her Big Blue in the Final Four in Indianapolis (she predicted a Kentucky-Kansas final). After struggling to get tickets, she did see them play in the Syracuse Regionals. "You would think that I would have a hookup with the team, she joked, "but only (actress and No. 1 Kentucky celebrity follower) Ashley Judd has that. ... I'm there, I'm always right there. But they don't know about me yet. But they will."
Bundy even has a song called "Rebound," although - with references to second-chance love and Beyonce ("You don't have to put a ring on it") - it has nothing to do with hoop dreams.
3. While her musical tastes are broad (including gospel, soul and R&B), there are two honorable Queens of Country she'll follow anywhere.
Hello, Dolly ... and watch your back. That shadow you see may be a fast-approaching Bundy. "If I know she's gonna be in the same place as me, I'm gonna find her," Bundy warns, half(?)-kiddingly. "I'm gonna go stalk her."
Seriously, though, Bundy does hope to meet Parton one day, and eventually do a duet with her. She already introduced herself to her other All-American idol, Loretta Lynn, at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in January 2008, when Lynn inducted her sister, Crystal Gayle. "She's from Kentucky and I'm from Kentucky; we're both Aries," Bundy says, proud of sharing that bond with Lynn. "She was very sweet to me, and she was really funny. ... And she sang 'Coal Miner's Daughter.' And I think I was crying when I watched her. But later she was like, 'Oh, my voice is horrible.' I'm like, 'Your voice sounds amazing. Who are you kidding?' "
4. Maybe she taught Britney Spears and Natalie Portman a thing or two about acting. Then again ...
Early in her career, Bundy originated the role of Tina Denmark in off-Broadway's Ruthless! The Musical, a cult favorite in the gay community. Serving as her understudies were Spears, the future pop star, and Portman, the actress who would eventually reign as Star Wars' Queen Amidala. So surely there is some juicy gossip Bundy can share about when they were tween drama queens.
"You know how juicy it is when you're 10 years old," Bundy says, laughing. "I mean everybody was sweet, young girls. Britney was very sweet, her mom was very sweet. Natalie and I were closer (and has seen every Broadway show Bundy has done). We were actually good friends and had sleepovers. She was a vegetarian at 10 years old and I liked chicken on the bone. So we deferred a little bit in our eating choices, but we were very good friends, and we'd put on pageants and we'd make crank calls and we did all kinds of stuff."
And while only Portman has the only major acting award (2005 Golden Globe for Closer) among the three, there are Tony, Oscar and MTV Movie Award nominations worth remembering (along with Britney's two Razzies).
5. She writes her own material, a rarity in Nashville these days. Once her run in Legally Blonde was over, Bundy was determined to head to Nashville and start a career as a solo country artist. Writing and singing country music since she was 18, Bundy eventually teamed up in New York with friend and roommate Amber Rhodes in a country duo called Laura and Amber ("Because we were creative like that"), but when the highlight was performing on the subway to make just enough money to see the movie Tarzan "and get popcorn," Bundy realized it was time to move on.
After making connections during various visits to Music City in 2008, she left Legally Blonde that July, soon landed a record deal with a prestigious label and bought a place in Nashville by the fall. She's thankful for the Broadway break, saying, "It's kinda funny because until I did Legally Blonde, nobody cared about my country music. I could've been schlepping on Music Row for years."
Then getting the opportunity to co-write 11 of the 12 songs on Achin' and Shakin', her first major release (in New York, she did record Longing for a Place Already Gone, an independent album she calls "y'allternative country"), was beyond her wildest dreams.
"Are you kidding? I cannot believe it. I cannot believe it. These people have given me enough rope to hang myself," Bundy said, crediting Universal Music Group Nashville chairman Luke Lewis with making it happen. "They have trusted me a lot. I really thought that when I signed a deal that I was lucky enough to get that opportunity to begin with, that I would have to sell out, that I would have to make compromises. And I haven't had to compromise anything, (laughs), and I'm willing to!"
6. Just like the good ol' days of vinyl 33 1/3 long-playing records, there are two sides to Achin' and Shakin'.
Convinced a "concept record" can make it in an age of iTunes, playlists and short attention spans, Bundy provides what two decidedly different records in one, with six songs on each side. She sets it all up with lush orchestration and "heartachy," authentic, throwback tunes on Achin', where the listener can "wallow in your sorrow," then provides a jolt with the Shakin' numbers that tell "the story of losing love, getting over it and getting on to somebody else," beginning with "Giddy On Up."
Bundy encourages all kinds of physical activity on the latter side, from running to dancing to driving your car really fast. "Somebody said they were clogging to it, they were doing Jazzercise or something, which I thought was hilarious," she says, knowing not everyone will be that committed. "If they don't like to listen to it like that, they can shuffle."
7. Besides being a rootin'-tootin' good time, the "Giddy On Up" single (already evolving into a club remix) has yielded a campy video production that's an ode to Western movies - if you consider The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas a Western ...:
... Along with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ("I was obsessed with that movie and I love Marilyn Monroe," Bundy says) and any movie where John Wayne walks into a cowboy bar. Now don't forget other sources of inspiration - Mae West, Dolly Parton and Jane Russell. ... Then there's Bundy's "Jerry Reed rap," where she might be the first to connect clogging with hip-hop:
Oh, let me tell you!
I guess you could say that I was blind
I was blinded by my love (uh-huh)
I did everything for you and now push has come to shove (come to shove)
So let's call a spade, a spade (mm-hmm)
Was it worth the price you paid? (uh-uh)
Now, I am done, I'm a lucky one, and you can sleep in the bed you've made
A dancing, prancing example of female empowerment combining the best qualities of Gunsmoke's Miss Kitty and Blazing Saddles' Lili Von Shtupp, Bundy exacts her revenge on a dastardly dude by riding off into the sunset, her ex-cowboy toy dragged out of town by a horse.
Why didn't John Ford envision happy endings like that?
8. She isn't worried (OK, maybe a little) about needing to top herself.
"Oh, hell yeah (laughs)," she concedes, without hesitation. "And I'm worried about the label not giving me money to do the video I want to do because we spent a lot on 'Giddy On Up.' "
Bundy slows it down for her next video - "Drop On By," the opener from the Achin' side - that makes its world premiere on CMT on April 12. "I'm in the bathtub, I'm walking around the house with a glass of wine, and a man shirt," Bundy says. "It's very sexy, it's very relaxed. ... The next Shakin' uptempo one I do, it's gonna have to be as entertaining as 'Giddy On Up' because that's what people expect."
9. Always up for a challenge, Bundy is already thinking ahead.
"Oh, honey, my head is so full of ideas, it's going to explode," she replies when asked about her next major production. "I thought about maybe making like a mini-movie, where you have 'Giddy On Up,' and I'm on the horse, and then it picks up with me on the horse dragging the guy and then it goes right into the next song on the album ... but I think that's going to be too expensive (laughs) ... I may just have to turn the album into a Broadway show to do that."
10. And speaking of Broadway, she's still open-minded -- and honest -- about her career plans.
Bundy entertains thoughts of returning to the Great White Way if the "right opportunity," like a role in a limited run drama, comes along. "When I'm doing a show, I try to do something new every night. It could be scary because the potential to fall on your face or not get the laugh or to embarrass yourself is really strong. But I'm always willing to embarrass myself. And I think doing theater really helped me with that.
"I don't want to be put in a box and told I can't do anything," she adds. "I think, for everybody, the world is their oyster and they should be able to have all kinds of experiences." Besides, if this singing thing doesn't work out, Bundy sees herself as a future video director.
Right now, though, she says, "All I want to do is the music. ... So I don't really want to go anywhere. And I'm close to home. And the Wildcats play (road games) in Nashville."
• Publicity photo by Michael Elins.