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June 2, 2010

Taylor Swift's Rise to America's Sweetheart

taylor swift

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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For Swift, performing seems not so much a profession as a calling. Like being a nun or a Jedi Knight. It's the only thing she's ever wanted to do, at all. Ever. "I have been singing randomly, obsessively, obnoxiously for as long as I can remember," says Swift, who grew up on an idyllic Christmas-tree farm in rural Pennsylvania with her own pony. The oldest child of well-to-do parents (her father, Scott, is a stockbroker; her mother, Andrea, quit her job as a mutual fund marketing executive to raise Swift and Swift's little brother, Austin), Swift insists that although her parents believed in her completely, the burning need to sing in public was entirely her own. "My parents have videos of me on the beach at, like, 3," she continues, "going up to people and singing Lion King songs for them. I was literally going from towel to towel, saying, 'Hi, I'm Taylor. I'm going to sing I Just Can't Wait to Be King for you now.'"

We're sitting on the couch in her backstage dressing room, which she shares with her brunette backup singer, Liz Huett, and her redheaded fiddle player, Caitlin Evanson, who are also two of her best friends. They both feature prominently in the homemade videos that Swift posts regularly for fans on taylorswift.com and Facebook, and they flank Swift like handmaidens. A big rack of bright, silky dresses stands against one wall; a forest of Louboutins is spread out over the floor. A giant soda from In-n-Out Burger sits melting on the coffee table.

"It's very Taylor to want to share her dressing room," Swift's publicist, Paula Erickson, said earlier. "She just likes having her friends around." And while that's true, it's worth noting that toward the end of every concert, Evanson and Swift have a spectacular, hair-thrashing drumming battle on two big steel garbage cans during the song "Should've Said No." (Swift always wins.)

It's about 5:30 in the afternoon, and Swift has just finished her preconcert rehearsal. She does not seem nervous at all. In fact, she seems downright relaxed. Dressed in a loose gray miniskirt and black Rag & Bone dance shoes with patent leather tips, she has been trying to explain to me what it's like to be born with such an intense sense of destiny, and how completely it has defined and driven her life so far. "It's literally all I've ever dreamed of," she says.

By the time she was 10, the details of Swift's future had begun to fall into place. She knew she wanted to be a country singer. She knew she needed to go to Nashville to make it happen. She'd discovered karaoke and was teaching herself to sing like Faith Hill and the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain. She had taken to performing at any event she could find, including garden clubs and Boy Scout meetings, which made her seriously unpopular at school. Swift didn't care. She was on a mission. "I knew that everything I wanted to happen could happen in Nashville," she says. "So it became my number one goal to get there somehow."

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Taylor Swift in our July 2010 issue, on newsstands June 8.

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