When Brandi Carlile was in junior high, she performed Elton John‘s “Honky Cat” in a local singing contest. She wore a thrifted white polyester suit with drugstore boat shoes and pipe cleaner glasses that her mom bedazzled herself.
She lost the competition but ultimately had the last laugh: The six-time Grammy winner now considers John one of her good friends and mentors. He first reached out in 2007 to say he’s a fan, and soon became her “gay pen-pal father figure,” Carlile writes in her new memoir “Broken Horses.”
“It’s weird, he barely knew me, but I felt so compelled to tell him everything,” Carlile tells USA TODAY with a laugh. “I’d be like, ‘Elton! I got nominated for a Grammy!’ And he’d be like, ‘Great honor! Love you!’ “
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“Broken Horses,” out Tuesday, traces Carlile’s impoverished childhood in rural Washington singing country songs and playing music with her family. She describes coming out as gay at age 15 – prompted by Ellen DeGeneres’ historic coming-out episode of “Ellen” in 1997 – and the intolerance she faced as a result. (Carlile’s pastor refused to baptize her and she was kicked out of a band.)
The folk-country star and her wife of eight years, Catherine Shepherd, are now proud parents to two young daughters, Evangeline and Elijah. (Their biological father is Carlile’s childhood best friend, David.) Carlile, 39, recently caught up with USA TODAY from her…