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Country Singer: Miranda Lambert

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AGE: 21

HOMETOWN: Lindale, Texas

LATEST GIG: Her first album, Kerosene, debuted at No. 1 on the country charts

•Me and Merle Singing: Her hit single “Me and Charlie Talking” is a throwback to country music’s golden age. Lambert will get in touch with those roots when she opens for Merle Haggard this summer. “I’m so excited about meeting him,” she gushes. “If he’s rude to me, I’ll be crushed for life.”

•Supersize Dreams: After her nine-week stint on Nashville Star—country’s answer to American Idol—in 2003, the third-place finisher’s celebrity wasn’t the only thing to grow in size. “Little Debbie and McDonald’s were sponsors,” says her mom, Beverly, 45. “Every person gained weight. They were like, ‘Geez, give us some fruit.’ ”

•Sleuth Movement: Raised by private-detective parents—their most high-profile gig was working with Paula Jones’s legal team in the investigation of President Clinton—Lambert and her brother Luke, 16, often helped with surveillance missions. “We had a normal life, but our dinner conversation wasn’t the norm,” she says. The downside? “I never snuck out of the house.”

•Don’t Mess with Texas: When Lambert’s boyfriend Jeff McManus, 23, first met her parents, her father, Rick, 53, made sure to end the house tour with a not-so-subtle stop in the gun room. He’s not the only family member to exercise his right to bear arms. After an audience member insulted her mother at a show, “I punched him right in the stomach,” Lambert recalls, laughing. “I don’t put up with much.”