May 21, 2007 12:00 PM

AGE: 17

HOMETOWN: Hendersonville, Tenn.

WHY YOU KNOW HER: She’s up for best new female vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards on May 15, and her crossover hit “Tim McGraw” won Breakthrough Video of the Year at the 2007 CMT Music Awards.


She’s spent her teen years in Tennessee, but as a child she lived on a Christmas tree farm in Wyomissing, Pa., with her stockbroker dad and homemaker mom. Hauling the harvest around took muscle, but one icky task required a strong stomach. “I had to look for praying mantis eggs [in the trees],” she says, “because if people brought them into their house, the eggs would hatch and there’d be thousands of them.”


Sure, she sings, plays guitar and wrote much of her self-titled gold debut. But at age 10, Swift was her own agent too, booking karaoke contests and festival gigs. The next year, she took her demo of Dolly Parton and Dixie Chicks covers to Nashville. “I walked into the major labels and was like, ‘I want a record deal,'” she says. “They didn’t really take me seriously—I sang like a chipmunk!”


Asked to autograph a fan’s stomach so it could be tattooed on immediately afterward, Swift says, “I said, ‘Yeah, right,’ and signed it obnoxiously big.” An hour later the woman returned with the star’s script tatted to her tummy. Swift’s response? “I said, ‘I really hope things go well for me so you can justify that.'”


Though she’s now homeschooled, Swift milked the hallway gossip from her years at Hendersonville High for inspiration. “There was always some drama I could write songs about,” she says. “Like my friend getting broken up with and bawling her eyes out or a guy being completely immature.” Those lessons might be keeping her “completely single” these days. Explains Swift: “I can’t afford to have my head messed up right now—and that’s what happens with a guy!”

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