Here's Why: The Message of Shania Twain's New Show
Why Not? With Shania Twain has a dubious cause: as the country superstar stated on Sunday night's premiere episode on OWN, "My purpose for doing this is to share with people so they can learn from it." That immediately sets it apart from other reality shows that matter-of-factly follow celebrities (the implicit fact of the matter being that fame makes them fascinating). This show is different, or so we're to believe. This show is special.
The irony of this needless qualification is that Shania Twain's story is, as a matter of fact, more fascinating than most. It's a story of a Canadian musician whose talent lifted her out of poverty and into the utterly Stateside genre of country music. It's a story of a girl who sometimes watched but mostly heard her stepfather beating her mother viciously, though that wasn't enough to make her write him off (her mixed feelings about her abusive stepfather are among the most nuanced and specific ever expressed on reality TV). It's a story of a wife whose first marriage ended after her music-producer husband Robert John "Mutt" Lange ran off with her best friend, Marie-Anne Thiebaud, and whose second marriage was with the ex-husband of the aforementioned best friend, Frederic Thiebaud. When Twain shares the story of the couple swap, she calls it "twisted" with a devilish grin, suggesting it's as fun to tell as it is to hear. Twain's is a story of a superstar who had it all, but who lost her voice through a vague condition that seems partially physiological and partially psychological, as a result of all of the strife.
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The content of Twain's story is reason enough to share it — no pretensions of outreach necessary. Why Not? seems to want to gloss over its main service: getting Twain's career back off the ground after almost a decade of silence (her last album, Up!, was released in 2002). Indeed, in conjunction with last week's release of her memoir, From This Moment On, Why Not? is part of a cross-media campaign that will burn Twain back into our collective consciousness if it is successful. Yes, she does some actual work to back her charitable claims on the show, at one point meeting with a group of siblings who've been orphaned, much like Twain's family was when her mother and stepfather died in 1987. But even that was manipulated before our eyes for maximum watchability: When one of the Alexander family siblings broke down, unable to answer a question about missing her parents, Twain massaged her with, "You don't have to answer the question. Why don't you just tell us what you're thinking right now?" Perhaps Twain believes in equal opportunity healing through sharing, but she sounded more like a producer than a friend at that moment.
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And maybe that was with good reason. Ultimately, Why Not? is entertainment and it was indeed riveting. At the end of the episode, we saw Twain writing a new song and then heard her discuss the "big decision" to share with the rest of the world a new composition. Coming from someone who's been musically paralyzed, that makes sense in theory. But in practice on reality TV, clearly it was the ending with the most satisfying potential. She got to heal; we got to hear. Win/win.
What did you think of Shania's show?