Shania Twain Opens Up About the Tragedy That Drove Her to Succeed
The 'Real Country' panelist talks heartbreak, music, and moving on.
By Emma Dibdin
November 13, 2018
Shania made her triumphant return to country music last year after a long hiatus, having recovered from a vocal cord condition and a significant heartbreak that ultimately inspired her 2017 album, Now. This year, she’s stepping into a new role as a panelist on USA’s new competition reality show Real Country, where she’ll use her decades of experience in the industry to help emerging country artists find their platform.
On the show’s Nashville set earlier this year, CountryLiving.com sat down with Twain, 53, to chat about what she learned while away from the industry, the kinds of artists she hopes to support, and how the adversity she faced in her early twenties—when her mother and stepfather were killed in a car accident—gave her the drive she needed to succeed.
What did you learn while on your break from music?
"There's been a regression in diversity in the country music genre. We have less women, we have less of everything, and it's almost like I went away and the progress that I may have contributed to the genre went away with me. So I’m back! I’ve been in the industry 45 years, and I think by now I know what the audience wants, so I'm here to please the audience, not please the industry. I want to get out there and do music that connects with people, and the more the merrier. I think we’re due for some change in this industry, and we need some stronger headliners."
What drove you when you were starting out?
"I think when you're first starting out, your conviction and your determination has to be on hyper-mode, because you are going to face a lot of obstacles. For me, I didn’t have anything to go back to. I didn’t have any choice but to make it, and that was to my advantage in some ways. I don't wish that on anyone, because it is a really challenging thing to go through in your early twenties, but I didn’t have anything to go back to. My parents were gone, I had no family support, most of my siblings were younger and dependent on me still, I had no money, and no base. I had nothing. So there was just no choice but to make it. There’s a conviction that you really need. So, all I’m saying is find whatever it is that drives you, hold onto it, and pedal to the metal."
What's your goal with Real Country?
"I want to make a difference, and I want to encourage different. I’m here as an advocate and a cheerleader of artists that have the courage to be themselves, and to be unique, and to not be out to please the industry and the industry’s parameters. I’m looking for the highest standard of quality, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the most extraordinary vocalist. We have so many legends that are not known for their vocal prowess or their vocal range, so I’m looking more for stylists and great communicators, and people who have conviction behind their style and haven’t wavered, who have not started copying someone else to try to be accepted.
If the goal is acceptance, I think that’s the wrong incentive. I want artists to be motivated by what they want to do, and that means you’ve gotta put the blinders on sometimes and stay focused, and it’s very difficult not to be distracted and tempted by the idea of ‘you could be the next so-and-so.’ It can be a very painful process, fighting that and breaking that and just staying true to yourself, so this show aims to create a platform for that type of artist."
You don't consider yourself a mentor on the show—why is that?
"I was attracted to the idea of not drawing it all out in a mentorship process. I do enjoy mentoring, but this particular concept is more about finding artists that have already found themselves, that have already been through the process and stayed true to who they are. I’m here to say 'Bravo, congratulations for coming this far, finding yourself, staying true to yourself, you deserve a chance to be recognized for that.'
The artists [on Real Country] haven’t necessarily developed themselves as crowdpleasers, in a hype sense. The best way to please a crowd is to get up there and belt it out, right, but not everybody’s a belter! Emmylou Harris doesn’t belt, and Alison Krauss doesn’t belt, and Charley Pride isn’t a belter, so there’s just different types of singers that deserve to be championed. That’s what Real Country is about."
Real Country premieres November 13 at 10 p.m. EST on USA.