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Country music still the one Shania Twain loves

Story by Nick Krewen 

Despite her amazing pop success, Shania Twain is still inviting people to "Come On Over" to country music."I'm not looking to leave country, but I do want more international success," Shania says as she's about to wrap up her first world tour. "The more people that hear your music, the more satisfied you are as an artist."   Yet recent press coverage on Shania might have you believe otherwise. The headline from this month's cover of Glamour declares "Shania Twain: From poverty to pop star." The Associated Press states that Shania "looks about as country as the Manhattan Skyline." And the Chicago Tribune accuses her of being "this generation's answer to sexpot rock diva Pat Benatar." 

Shania doesn't deny that there are other influences in her music. "The Woman In Me had its obvious country elements, but it had its obvious rock elements, too," says Shania, 33.  "There's a lot of variety on the album. It goes from country to new traditional country to a very pop country. People want something different, something fresh." 

But for Shania, home is where the heart is. She insists country music is her home.  "I consider myself a country artist," she insists flatly. "That music was always such a big part of me growing up. I took to what was most comfortable to me - and that was country. "It was the gist of my entire childhood career, as I sang on every country music television and radio show my mother could get me involved with. 
"I loved Stevie Wonder and The Carpenters, but Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton were just as big an influence."  In fact, Shania views Dolly as her ultimate role-model. "I think Dolly Parton has been my biggest all-around influence, just because she's done everything," says Shania. 

"She's in movies, she writes hit songs, she's a great performer, she's got a great personality, she's got a great voice, Dolly just does everything." Shania's been doing just about everything, too. And, it's paid off handsomely. In the six years since the release of her debut album Shania Twain, the Canadian crooner has: 
* Sold more than 27 million albums around the world - 22 million in the U.S. 
* Scored a string of six No. 1s - including the monster hits "Any Man 
of Mine," "(If You're Not in It For Love) I'm Outta Here!," "Love Gets Me Every Time" and "You're Still the One." 
* Launched a successful world tour that has been seen by 1.5 million 
people in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe. Last year alone, Shania's road show grossed nearly $ 28 million and was seen by almost a million people. This year added more than $ 7 million to the pot. 
* Graced the covers of a host of magazines, including Cosmopolitan, 
which named Shania its "Fun, Fearless Female of the Year." 
* Hosted her own prime-time CBS special, Shania Twain's Winter Break, which drew banner ratings. 
* Collected dozens of awards - including three Grammys, two ACMs, three American Music Awards, 16 Canadian Country Music Awards and six Juno Awards. 
* Scooped up two special diamond awards at the ACMs for being the first woman to ever have two back-to-back albums sell more than 10 million - The Woman in Me and Come on Over. 

It's overwhelming, and something I'd never thought I would ever achieve," says Shania of this latest milestone. "It's certainly something that only comes along once in a lifetime, and so far, only in my lifetime. I'm just totally thrilled. It's a career highlight for me." It's a career that began when she was a toddler. "I remember being put up on top of a countertop by my mother when I was 3," recalls Shania. "I would always sing out loud to the jukebox. Those are the earliest versions of a performance that I'd ever done." 

At 8, she was performing locally around the Northern Ontario mining communities of Sudbury and Timmins - approximately 250 to 500 miles north of  Toronto - and by 11 she was working the tavern circuit. "I was actually a professional," recalls Shania. "I was doing telethons, little fairs and country shows locally, but I was getting paid and I was working. I had quite the little country music career on the go." 

After her parents died in a car accident, Shania landed a job singing at Deerhurst Resort, in Muskoka, Ontario, that served as her springboard to stardom. She spent three years there honing her craft and looking after her family.  "That's where I learned how to perform for real," Shania says. "I learned to get over so many inhibitions that you really have to get over if  you want to be a professional. It was school for me." 

Eventually, Shania turned her attention to Nashville and landed a deal with Mercury Nashville after power Music City lawyer Dick Frank was knocked out by her audition.   In 1993, Shania released Shania Twain to little fanfare - and undertook a 40-date promotional tour with label mates Toby Keith and John Brannon. The album didn't meet with immediate success.  But she met Robert "Mutt" Lange, a producer who'd made his mark in the pop and rock worlds creating hit records for acts including AC/DC, The Cars, Def Leppard and Billy Ocean.  One direction he hadn't yet tried was country music - and Shania was game. The couple fell in love during the process of penning and recording such classic hits as "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" and "Any Man of  Mine" for The Woman in Me. Six months after they met, they married in December 1993.  The Woman in Me was released in 1995, and the hits began pilling up. The record eventually became the best-selling album every by a female country artist.  That year Shania established another first - she refused to tour. Instead, she decided to wait until the release of her third album, 1997's Come on Over.   "It was a very good decision not to tour in '95," she told a reporter. "If I had toured then, the tour this year would not have been nearly as exciting." 

In January 1998, Shania personally handpicked a nine-piece band -  including three fiddle players - and began four months of rehearsals near her home in upstate New York. On May 29, 1998, she kicked off the tour in Sudbury, Ontario, just north of her hometown of Timmins. The powerful two-and-a-half hour performance received rave reviews. For Shania, it was the ultimate payoff, and one she still enjoys. 

"Getting up onstage every night is the highlight of my career - every single night," she says. "It's what I live for." 

"When you're on the road and you have a high profile, you're a prisoner of your career. You can't go anywhere. I basically just stay on the bus. There's not really much I can do in public. So to get up onstage and party with the fans is what I live for. It's the best." But Shania's appeal isn't limited to country fans. She's also tasted crossover success, particularly with her huge crossover hit "You're Still the One." The song reached the top spot on the country charts and No. 2 on the pop charts. The pop world also embraced her when she participated in VH1's Divas Live special, video and album. Shania sang alongside fellow Canadian Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Gloria Estefan and Carole King. Even the Grammys recognized her pop appeal, nominating Shania in January in three country categories as well as three overall categories. 

At the moment, life couldn't be sweeter for Shania. Come on Over remains in the Top 5 after 80 weeks. Mega-hits "That Don't Impress Me Much" and "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" are still climbing the pop charts.  They'll likely be joined by another when "You've Got a Way" is released this month as a single from the soundtrack of the latest Julia Roberts film, Notting Hill. 

When her tour ends July 4, Shania will fly to her new home in Switzerland - a castle she bought last year with Mutt.  "It was a decision we made for the sake of the studio," Shania says, explaining why they're selling their home in the Adirondacks of New York State. "It all boils down to where we want to spend the rest of our lives making music."  She plans to begin work on her fourth album - including a Christmas album due this year. Shania and Mutt are also looking for an Ontario cottage near the singer's old Deerhurst stomping grounds in Muskoka. 

Despite her international pop success, the sizzling singer says her heart is still in country. "I can honestly say that I would be disappointed if I wasn't being recognized by the country world, because we've come such a long way together," says Shania. "It's been such a time for both of us because my music has been so 
different for country and sometimes controversial for the industry. But it wasn't the fans that just ruled all the way. I mean the industry didn't control what happened to me, the fans did." 

"I think that country music has the best fans in the whole world." 

Country Weekly, June 22, 1999 

Copyright 1999. Country Weekly. 

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