June 29, 1998 12:00 PM

She has never been divorced, hasn’t been in rehab and would rather stand by her mom than a man at this point in her life. But don’t tell teen country singer Lila McCann that she’s not a seasoned pro. “I’ve been singing for a long time,” says McCann as she lounges in her tour bus in Pontiac, Mich., outside the Silverdome, where she is appearing as an opening act for George Strait. “Well,” she adds with a glittering grin, courtesy of her braces, “a long time for someone my age.”

At 16, McCann has done more than most kids her age. Her self-titled gold debut album, a blend of ballads and honky-tonk toe tappers, is approaching 1 million in sales on the strength of such singles as “I Wanna Fall In Love,” helping McCann score a best new female vocalist nomination at April’s Academy of Country Music Awards in Los Angeles. Her song “To Get Me to You” appears on the new soundtrack of Hope Floats, starring Sandra Bullock. But being a fresh-faced country singer is hardly a 24-7 job for McCann, a B-average high school sophomore from a small town near Tacoma, Wash., who juggles home-work, cheerleading practice and a hectic teen life with the demands of recording and touring (weekends-only during the school year). All of which cuts into her time for in-line skating and cruising the mall with her best buds. Worse, she hasn’t had time to get the driver’s license she needs to cruise in the ’91 Honda Civic she recently purchased. “I love it,” she says of her first set of wheels. “It’s just a nice little car to get me where I’m going.”

While she speeds toward stardom, McCann is running into more and more comparisons to that other warbling teen queen, LeAnn Rimes, whom she first encountered at a Las Vegas talent competition when Lila was 12 and LeAnn 11. “Heck, yeah, I was checking her out,” says McCann. “I was like, ‘Who is that?’ ” (They each won awards in separate categories.) As for similarities, says McCann, “the only thing we really have in common is our ages. As far as the music goes, or our lifestyles, we’re pretty different. She’s out on the road all the time, and most of the time I’m still home at school.”

Indeed, McCann’s parents, Gretchen, 50, a retired beautician who travels with her, and Pat, 54, a U.S. Department of Defense civilian employee and local country bandleader, see to it that their daughter (who has four older brothers) doesn’t grow up too fast. “There’s some other people in the business, I won’t say who,” Pat says, in a veiled reference to Rimes, “who are on the road 300 days. How ridiculous! They lose their childhood.”

McCann has been keen on a music career since age 5, when she surprised her parents by announcing that she intended to sing “You Are My Sunshine” with her father’s band, the Southlanders, at their regular Sunday-night gig at the local Eagles Club. By 8 she was performing full sets with the group every weekend and the following year was discovered by manager Kasey Walker. “I asked Lila, ‘Is this what you really want to do?’ ” recalls Walker. “She said, ‘I want to be the next Reba McEntire.’ ” For that to happen, says the real Reba, who is familiar with McCann’s work, she’d better choose substance over style. “[Lila] has a great voice,” says McEntire. “But she’s finding wonderful songs to sing, and that’s very important too.”

But even as McCann, who signed a recording deal with Asylum Records in 1995, enjoys adult-size success, fans should not expect any grown-up drinkin’ and cheatin’ songs from the teen, who recently broke up with her first boyfriend. “I don’t gamble or go to bars,” says McCann, who will tour this summer before returning to school for her junior year. “And I’ve got lots of time to, like, find a man or whatever. So I’m in no big hurry.”

Steve Dougherty

Kelly Williams in Pontiac

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