Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Earlier this year, when Terri Clark's current Mercury album, "Pain to Kill," peaked at No. 5 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart, the Canadian singer/songwriter admits to being overcome with emotion.

"I just about threw up," she says. "I couldn't believe it. After eight years, you come to a point where your expectations get to be very realistic. I'm used to disappointment. When I started out I felt invincible, and I also felt like if I fail, I'm just going to die. There was a desperate need to succeed. After you've faltered a few times and you come back, you realize that it's all OK, that it is what it is."

These days, "what it is" for Clark is her best year yet. "Pain to Kill," her fifth album, has sold 123,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. Its lead single, "I Just Wanna Be Mad," peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart; her current single, "Three Mississippi," is No. 49.

Clark is the Canadian Country Music Association's fan-voted entertainer of the year. She was nominated for two CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards and has received her first female vocalist of the year nomination from the Academy of Country Music (ACM), a badge of recognition she'd long coveted.

Mercury senior VP of marketing Kim Markovchick cites a number of factors behind Clark's current success: her strong live show, increased media exposure, a highly reactive single, and a strong album. "What it really boils down to is that she made a great record," Markovchick says. "'I Just Wanna Be Mad' is a song so many people can relate to in their own lives."

Clark is grateful for the strong reaction to the single. "As an artist, I was under no illusions. I didn't think that anybody would be sitting there waiting for a Terri Clark single," she says of her comeback record. "I had a song that really connected, and it's a great feeling. I can't tell you how many people walked up to me and said, 'That song is me.'"

When making the new album, Clark's goal was clear. "I wanted to blend what brought me to the party -- the energy that I have in my live shows and the energy I had on my first couple of albums-with my soul-searching songwriter part," she says. "I went for the greatest songs I could find-that I could relate to as a woman of 34 who's had ups and downs in life -- and I wrote songs that came from the heart. I look back on the album and I think [it's] the most well rounded project so far of my career. Musically, it covers every base of who I am."

At a time when many country female artists are openly courting the pop market, Clark remains unabashedly country. Clark says her look isn't an image; it's who she is. "I've always been more of a hard country singer than anything," she says. "I come from Medicine Hat, Alberta, where I grew up singing Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and was not too aware of what was going on in pop music, so I never gravitated towards it.

"When the pendulum is swinging that way in the industry, that's when someone like me wonders where their place is, but I think there's a lot of room for different types of music in country. I don't think there's anything wrong with venturing more towards the pop side now and then and challenging yourself, but that's not the road I take because I don't feel it would be sincere for me individually. My fans would see right through it."

For now, Clark is simply enjoying her day in the sun: "I've been so grateful. "I've been given a gift of resurgence of my career at this point. I'm relishing it, and I'm having a great time. I'm really happy right now."





Excerpted from the April 12, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.

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