Evans was born in Boonville, Missouri, in 1971, and is of Welsh, English, and Irish descent. She was raised on a farm near New Franklin, Missouri, the eldest girl of seven children. By five, she was singing weekends in her family's band. At the age of eight, she was struck by an automobile in front of the family home, and her legs suffered multiple fractures. Recuperating for months in a wheelchair, she continued singing to help pay her medical bills.
When she was 16, she began performing at a nightclub near Columbia, Missouri, a gig that lasted two years.
Evans moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1991 to be a country music artist. She met fellow musician Craig Schelske and left Nashville with him in 1992, moving to Oregon. They married in 1993. She returned to Nashville in 1995 and began recording demos. Nashville songwriter Harlan Howard was impressed by her demo of his song "Tiger by the Tail". He decided to help her music career, leading to a signed contract with RCA Nashville.
In 1997, Evans released her debut album for RCA, Three Chords and the Truth. Although none of its three singles ("True Lies," the title track, and "Shame About That") reached the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, the album received critical praise for its neotraditional country sound. In 1998, Evans released her second album, No Place That Far. The album's lead single, "Cryin' Game," also failed to reach the Top 40. However, the album's second single and title track, gave Evans her first Number One hit on the Hot Country Songs chart in March 1999. The album was eventually certified Gold by the RIAA, and produced one additional Top 40 country hit in "Fool, I'm a Woman."
She followed this up with Born to Fly (2000), Restless (2003) and Real Fine Place (2005). No Place That Far received a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), while the other three albums all were certified platinum. These discs include the number 1 singles "No Place That Far", "Born to Fly", "Suds in the Bucket" and "A Real Fine Place to Start", plus the top 10 hits "I Could Not Ask for More" (a cover of the Edwin McCain song), "I Keep Looking", "Perfect" and "Cheatin'". Her 2007 Greatest Hits included the top 20 hits "You'll Always Be My Baby" and "As If". Stronger (2011) included her fifth number 1 hit, "A Little Bit Stronger", which was co-written by Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum.