When Shawnda Rains began Shawnda Rains Entertainment Group in 1998, the professional entertainer just wanted to make a venue where local artists could perform in front of a live band. While she owned The Rialto Theater in Denison, the theater served that purpose.
Now, Shawnda Rains Entertainment helps develop young artists throughout Texoma who are going on to make national names for themselves. The studio not only helps artists develop vocally, it offers guitar lessons and performance opportunities.
“Originally we started to train country music singers, but now, we train people for more genres,” Rains said. “We also manage and promote the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame band out of Carthage.”
The entertainment group began with an artist out of Oklahoma and an artist out of Dallas. Now the group includes 65 artists and three traveling stage groups.
“One of the main things we do is the Red River Opry,” Rains said. “It is a show at the Rialto Theater. I asked the current owner if we could come in and do seven shows there. We have two that have the studio perform and the rest have a live band with the singers. The next one will be held on Oct. 7, and it is a ’50s-themed show.”
Rains trains performers at all levels from beginners and intermediate to advanced performers and she trains across genres.
“We have performed in Branson, Missouri, and also at the Country Music Association Fest,” Rains said. “When we were doing a performance in Branson, we really saw how important singing and dancing are. So we recently added a dancing troop to our program. We want them to learn to dance so that they can work on their stage presence and timing. That group has morphed into so much more though.”
Holly Tucker competed on season four of “The Voice.” Tucker has been working on her stage presence since she met Rains in 2010. Tucker believes that performing in North Texas is what got her into the top 6 on the NBC show.
“Improving my stage performance helped me to improve my singing as a result,” she said. “You can tell when someone is uncomfortable on stage. Unless you are a seasoned performer and know how to hide it. As a little kid, especially young performers, it comes across. You want to look natural, like you are having fun.”
Tucker said that it took her a while to learn that singing in front of 20,000 people is no different from singing in front of 20 people.
“Being on a national stage, my nerves shot through the roof,” she said. “I wanted to control my nerves and learn how to use my emotions to my advantage on stage. When you focus on being who you are and not what people think, it is really important and people can tell. Blake Shelton taught me that as well because he is a funny guy. He will laugh and make fun of himself. He really taught me how to get up there and have fun.”
Tucker said if she could give any advice to a younger version of herself, she would want her to know that it’s a process.
“Learning how to perform is a growing experience throughout life,” she said. “Stay humble. Getting up and practicing in front of an audience will make this more natural. Hone your craft. That is the only way to do it.”
The reason Tucker enjoyed being mentored by Rains is, Rains understands the process.
“She had to learn these same things when she was younger, so she knows what this is like,” Tucker said. “She has a massive amount of experience. She was a huge blessing to me.”
Country recording artist Chris Colston released his first album in 2015.
“I met Shawnda when I was around 18 years old,” Colston said. “I was at a competition that she was judging. I wanted to take vocal lessons with her, so I began driving two hours each way for lessons.”
He did that for two or three years.
“At the time, not only was I taking vocal lessons, I was taking lessons with Shawnda’s husband,” Colston said. “He was teaching me the guitar and also helping me with my songwriting. I really enjoyed the training because they were able to break down each song down with me. They told me the things I was doing right and they told me the things that I was doing wrong.”
Colston said he needed to work on his onstage presence and the performance aspect of his shows.
“When I first started doing music, all I was doing was singing a song,” he said. “Now, I know how to use my personality on stage, how to talk to the audience during a performance. I am kind of a funny person so I use my humor on stage. It makes me not afraid of the stage. They taught me how to use what I already have.”
The stage for Colston is now the most comfortable place to be.
“I have performed all over Texas everywhere from honky tonks to bars,” he said. “I have performed in Arizona, Nebraska, Kansas … really everywhere that you can think of. I have performed in the Carthage Civic Center, from the smallest to the biggest venues.”
In five years, Colston sees himself continuing to build his fan base and putting more music out there.
“I want to be one of the top names in Texas music,” he said. “My advice to young people is if you have any doubts, pray about it. Do not give up or quit. As an independent artist, it takes a lot out of you, but it is worth it. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. Be on your toes at all times and keep the faith.”