When Shania Twain takes to the Corel Centre stage tonight, it will mark her first ever appearance in the capital city. An event of this magnitude naturally calls for a little, ahem, navel-gazing.
After all, Twain's belly-button is what brings us to the pop cultural nexus where we now find ourselves.
It's what sets Twain apart from her new country contemporaries; what brought future husband (and record producer) "Mutt" Lange to her doorstep (after seeing her in a music video); what prompted thousands of video requests and poster sales.
Which is not to discredit Twain's sizable musical and vocal talent (a rarity in an image-obsessed profession populated by the Spice Girls and Madonna) or her mythic rags-to-riches story.
But it was her stunning good looks that gave her the public profile needed to become the biggest selling female country star in history.
And it is those same good looks that are allowing her to cross over into Madonna's pop territory with so little backlash.
Country music may be a huge seller with a ravenous demographic but it has very little crossover appeal.
Sure, Garth Brooks moved a million copies of his greatest hits in the first week, besting a record held by Pearl Jam, and is approaching the Beatles in total sales. But he still gets no respect outside of country music circles.
Twain, however, has eschewed her Daisy Duke-style good ol' girl denim in favour of diva glam -- leopard print and pseudo-S&M gear -- and is roping in a whole new fanbase in the process.
But before there was a midriff capable of moving mountains of CDs, a little girl named Eileen spent her afternoons in Timmins dreaming of becoming a singing sensation.
Her parents split when she was two and a few years later she was adopted by her mother's second husband, an Ojibway Indian who left his cultural, if not genetic, mark on her.
Twain says she spent her summer weekends playing with cousins on the Matagami Reserve, her adopted grandfather teaching her to track rabbits.
When Twain's later overstatements about her native ancestry were challenged, she retorted in a statement to the Timmins Press: "I don't know how much Indian blood I actually have in me, but as the adopted daughter of my father Jerry, I became registered as a 50% North American Indian ... That is my heart and my soul, and I'm very proud of it."
The Twains were quite poor, often running out of food. But she held on to her music, sitting alone in her bedroom and banging away at her guitar.
Her mother, hoping it might be her daughter's ticket out of poverty, became a typical stage-mom, driving her eight-year-old to any stage that would have her.
She even claims to have been awakened at 1 a.m. and shuttled to local bars to sing after liquor hours.
But when Twain began entering adulthood, and preparing to fulfill her dream of singing for a living, her parents died in a tragic car wreck in 1987. Like a real-life Party of Five, Twain postponed her promising career to raise her three younger siblings alone.
She made ends meet singing at a resort and after a few years, when the kids were a little older, she traded in her birth name for the more apt Shania -- meaning "I'm on my way" in Ojibwa -- and moved to Nashville.
She was signed and released an eponymous album that was mostly ignored. But a video for one of the singles, featuring Twain in all her telegenic glory, caught the eye of Lange, a producer known for his work with Def Leppard and Bryan Adams.
Within a year of their first meeting, the two were wed.
But it was a creative union as well as a romantic one. They co-wrote all the songs for Twain's follow-up album and in a reversal of the usual sophomore jinx, 1995's The Woman in Me went on to sell over 10 million copies.
Without any touring, Twain dominated the country charts for over two years and this album alone made her the biggest selling female country artist. She began raking in the awards.
Twain followed up that mega-hit with last year's Come on Over, a not-so-subtle reminder of her crossover potential. And it worked.
Her new, less-countrified image, featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, earned Twain six Grammy nominations (and two awards) and quite possibly the biggest pop hit from a country star ever with You're Still the One.
She's now a pop icon in the Madonna mold, her face a tabloid fixture, her voice all over the radio, her body taped to high school boys' lockers.
Nashville insiders may gripe that despite a slight twang, Twain's not really playing country music.
They would be right. But she's still the best thing to happen to the
country music business in a long time.
Shania in Video
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