Shania Twain's bucket list is really more like a deep, romantic wishing well that's filled with dreams and ambitions, many of them realized whether they're modest or grand.
Twain mentioned making some of that wish fulfillment happen during an interview with The Huffington Post last week.
Taking a well-deserved four months off after completing her successful opening run of 36 shows as the first country performer to headline the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Twain sounded relaxed on the phone from her home in Switzerland.
Her hiatus has been spent participating in the usual summer outdoor activities (hiking, swimming, boating) and enjoying precious time with husband Frederic Thiebaud and son Eja. On the domestic side, Twain appreciates the joy of cooking, and described her latest experiment, sounding as excited as a schoolgirl giving a "What I did on my summer vacation" report.
Twain tried a new recipe that's become her latest specialty -- the banana spice cake was "a total success" and "totally rocks."
But the sexy songstress also fulfilled a few rock 'n' roll fantasies while "being on the other side of the stage for a change" as a concertgoer.
Some first-time moments she experienced were "great" -- watching Bonnie Raitt and meeting Joe Cocker ("He's such a lovely guy") at the Montreux Jazz Festival -- while others were "epic," such as finally seeing the Rolling Stones in concert.
Since, as Twain pointed out in her book From This Moment On, she was born in 1965, the same year year "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was released, there was "just something surreal about" hearing Mick Jagger perform the classic rocker live at Hyde Park in London that was the highlight of her summer.
"Mick Jagger has a style that is timeless, first of all," Twain said, deciding to pass up another Prince show (she saw him a few years ago) for this opportunity that may never present itself again. "He's a consistent professional all the way. And, you know, a great personality. He's just a great example of how all of us would want to be ... any entertainer would consider a good example of a classic entertainer."
Twain also exemplifies that, a performer with a stunning stage presence that any music fan should see live at least once in a lifetime. After a turbulent time in her life marked by a startling divorce from her producer/hit-making husband Robert John "Mutt Lange" that was finalized in 2010 and the temporary loss of her voice that put the pop-country queen's reign in jeopardy, Twain came back in eye-popping fashion last December.
A two-year Vegas residency called Shania: Still the One will resume with 22 more shows beginning October 15 and ending December 14. There might not be a better venue to see Twain at her best, delivering all the platinum sellers and Grammy Award winners in a jam-packed 90 minutes. (See my review from her debut week.)
Twain's contract at Caesars runs into December 2014, but Canada's best export since Molson has other activity planned for the future. The next item of business is recording her first studio album since 2002's Up!
Reminded that it's been two decades since her self-titled debut, Twain said, "Wow, 20 years. I should have released an album this year. ... I didn't actually realize that. Thanks for that fact. You know what? I'm really now focusing hard on who should produce the next album.
"It's hard. I'm sort of overwhelmed by the choice. There are so many great producers. And I never really had to think about that before (since Lange handled most of those past chores). So it's the first time I'm really, seriously having to think about who would be the right match, you know."
While she has some names in mind, "I haven't targeted anyone yet," Twain added. "So I'm really still swimming around in that giant pool of great producers, to be honest."
Twain, who said she already has a lot of music written, plans to hire a producer early in the new year, then, "It would be amazing if I would be able to record something prior to next summer. That would be ideal. It'll probably end up that I'll be recording next summer and then maybe release the next Christmas. That would be wonderful. That's probably more realistic."
After all, Twain will spend a lot of time during her Colosseum residency shuttling between Vegas and the Bahamas, leaving her Swiss abode behind for the warmth of the Caribbean sun just in time to celebrate turning 48 on August 28.
"I'll be on the beach for my birthday," she said ecstatically.
Getting back into the groove at the Colosseum won't be that difficult, anticipates Twain, who will arrive two days before her first show. That's right after Elton John, who also takes turns sharing the luxurious 4,300-seat room with Celine Dion and Rod Stewart, moves out.
"It's a pretty quick turnover," Twain said. "Once we get set up, we just go in and run through the show a couple of times on the day prior just to make sure we work out any technical problems. ... It's weird when you've been off for a couple months and then you've got to put it back into shape. But it's all part of the excitement."
Just like getting back on a bike?
"Yeah, sort of," she said, laughing. "Kind of."
Of course, there's no comparison. With all the moving parts to Twain's show, the possibility of something going wrong exists, but her cool demeanor suggests otherwise.
"It's a complicated setup," Twain said. "The room deserves it. You need to really, I guess, live up to the standard that that room demands. And that's been a part of the challenge as well as a part of the reward for me."
While the show evolves naturally during its run, Twain said there won't be any dramatic changes until possibly next year, with everything from the players (including kid sister Carrie Ann Brown) to the gorgeous costumes (including the sleek catsuit above) remaining the same. Just don't expect any family twists, like Twain's 12-year-old Eja making a guest appearance.
"Oh, he would never do it, I don't think," she said with a laugh about her only child, who plays some guitar and sings but prefers to arrange music. "No. He's not really into the performing. Yeah, he's more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person," adding that he takes after his producer-dad more than his outgoing mom in that regard.
Twain is happy to report that her voice held up nicely during the first run of shows. "I was warned about it because it's so dry there," she said. "Everyone always says you've got to be careful of that. I feel like I take good care of it. I take steam baths every day. I do all my warmups in the steam bath. ... It's a matter of being really aware of it and then you can't be out drinking vodka shots or whatever. It's just a very dehydrating environment. ... You have to take it very seriously, I think. Because it truly does, it will dry you out and your voice is usually the first to go, for sure."
While avoiding many of the temptations the Sin City has to offer (she doesn't gamble), Twain does occasionally get to enjoy the nightlife (Cirque du Soleil, David Copperfield, Blue Man Group, even Carrot Top), fine dining and shopping excursions.
That's miles and light years away from her childhood in Timmins, Ontario, and she realizes the importance of giving back. Shania's Kids Can is a charity program that provides support, encouragement and social integration to underprivileged children "so that they, hopefully, don't fall through the cracks as easily as they would otherwise and get left out," Twain said. In Vegas, she'll make occasional visits to Tom Williams Elementary School as part of that.
"I sort of blend in when I'm (in Las Vegas) because I just dress down and get out there and live a pretty normal life," she said, somehow managing to maintain a low profile off stage. "I think the thing is if you want to be normal, then you've got to act normal, and then you don't stand out. You'd be surprised how well that works."
While Nashville has become glitzy enough over the years to be called Nash-Vegas, Twain said the two cities really are "completely different places."
Yet she still has a place in her heart for the Tennessee town that launched her career.
"Oh, yeah! I love Nashville," Twain said when asked if she continues to stay connected with the Music City. "It's developed so much over the years, oh my gosh! I mean, since from when I first went there. It's changed a lot and it's really fun to visit. To be honest, a lot more fun than when I first went there because it's, I don't know, it's developed in a really good way. ...
"It's probably developed to be a little more international than it used to be. And I enjoy that about it now. But when I first went there, I'm really glad it was what it was. Because it was still what I remembered people talking about it, as far as a lot of the studios were still intact and in their original state, for example. ... And it was a neat discovery for me. I really enjoyed discovering it, I guess is what I would say."
Twain certainly had a lot to do with transforming the city from its traditional country and western roots into the USA's crossover capital, but still remembers that it wasn't easy.
"Country music was really surging at that point," she said of the early '90s, when artists such as Garth Brooks started selling millions of records. "And it became extremely competitive. Especially for a non-American, right? Coming from Canada, it was challenging. You know, I had my challenges and it was challenging getting my songwriting appreciated or understood even, really because I had my own style. And it didn't stem from Nashville or it didn't stem from any influence in Nashville. It was just what I was doing.
"And so it was interesting trying to get in there and to be taken seriously. But I plugged away and there were just a few key supporters and that was enough, thankfully. And it all turned out pretty good in the end. (laughs) But the timing of that, the timing of the level of competition was also a blessing because it was a platform that was able to launch an artist in a really huge way because it, in itself, was so popular again as a genre."
Twain remembers comparing notes with another attractive up-and-comer who eventually went on to attain superstar status and is following in her Vegas footsteps.
"I like Faith a lot," Twain said of Faith Hill, who brought the Soul2Soul show with husband Tim McGraw to Vegas' Venetian Theatre last December and will be back for 10 weekends of shows beginning in October. "She's a really cool person and we knew each other before either of us made it, so it was kinda neat. I mean just in town, around Nashville. Two girls just trying to be heard."
Occasionally, Twain said, they would have lunch and "just talk about how things were going and what we were each doing, and it was nice. You know, we just shared that same goal together and talked about our dreams and just real normal girl talk."
The fact that Hill and McGraw jumped on the Vegas bandwagon well after Twain got the motor running doesn't seem to bother her.
"I didn't really make anything of it at all," Twain said. "I had already been so much in the flow of what I was doing with the show, with my show that I just didn't ... no, I didn't think of it at all, to be honest. They've been touring all these years and they have their own thing going and, yeah, I didn't see it as ... if anything, I sort of thought it would be neat to cross paths there. But I never got to see (their) show."
Twain said she plans to rectify that the next time around, especially since Hill came to see one of her performances before the hiatus. And with so much in common, maybe they'll be able to catch up on their personal lives someday.
"She's got a place in the Bahamas as well," Twain said. "When I'm done, I think I'm just gonna drop in. You know, just drop in and say, 'I'm here unannounced, but here I am. Let's sit and chat.' "
Plunk. That deep well keeps filling up. Adding to that wishful thinking, Twain still wants to see Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift perform in concert, meet the Rolling Stones and maybe find a way to top this Vegas act, which she called "a monumental thing for me and my career" that she plans to eventually preserve on DVD.
"Oh, man," she sighs when asked to explore what she has in store for a career encore. "Well, maybe when I leave there I'll go right back to the basics. I'll do the opposite or something. ... I think it's very, very hard. But that room is probably the pinnacle of production standards that only live artists could get. ... It's a real, I guess I would say, privilege to be there. I don't know what you do after that. I guess you have to do something better." (laughs)
Beyond this residency, another album and possibly more touring, Twain can't predict the future but insists there's a lot left to accomplish.
"Oh my gosh, yeah," she said, the lilt in her laugh providing a patented exclamation point. "So many things. ... There's always that song I didn't write yet and there's so many wonderful surprises, I think, to look forward to really. And I wouldn't even be able to list them, to be honest. But there's always something to look forward to in a creative career. And you never know what's around the next corner."
With plenty of coin and an outlook just as rich, don't expect Twain's wishing well to run dry anytime soon.
Concert photo by Michael Bialas. Publicity photo by Mark Abrahams.