Country Singer Lori McKenna

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AGE: 38

HOMETOWN: Stoughton, Mass.

WHY YOU KNOW HER: The mom of five may be country’s unlikeliest star. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill fight over songs she writes, and her own album, Unglamorous, has gotten glowing reviews

• THIS UNGLAMOROUS LIFE: Before Hill recorded three of her songs for the 2005 album Fireflies, McKenna lived a life true to her album’s title track. She and her plumber husband of 19 years, Gene, 39, were raising their kids, now aged 3 to 18, in a modest three-bedroom house with “one bathroom, threadbare rugs, no cable.” Financially, “it was month to month,” says McKenna, who sold Tupperware and put 150,000 miles on her minivan. After her big break, the family took their first Disney trip: “That was a big deal. We kept telling the kids, ‘You have to thank Auntie Faith for this!'” This April, they moved to a bigger home nearby.

• AN EARLY HEARTBREAK: The youngest of six, she lost her mother when she was 7, but being Irish Catholic, she says, “there wasn’t a lot of whining about Mom being gone. You move on.” Instead, she put her emotions into writing songs, many of them weepy ballads. “I used to get the question, ‘Are you okay?’ a lot. People take me literally but I’m a happy person.”

• FAITH & FAMILY: Lori and three of her kids joined the McGraw-Hill clan for a month of touring this summer. Lessons learned? 1. Keep the kids happy. “They bring bikes, basketball hoops and Barbies for their girls—they have it figured out.” 2. Even superstars need a washer-dryer. “I saw Faith dragging a laundry bag into the arena one day—she does her own laundry!” 3. Don’t trust the guy in the hat. “Tim is always lying! He told someone I could drink a case and a half of beer. I can’t finish a second beer!”