First Posted: 1/14/2014
There will be talent galore at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs Hotel grand opening this weekend, and two of the most noted stars slated to pop in come from opposite ends of the spectrum: a blonde, British dancer who caught the public’s eye via a popular TV show, and a handsome country crooner who released his fifth studio album last year. The Weekender caught up with both beforehand to chat about their chosen trades and what makes them tick.
ON HER TOES
She took her first turn on this past season’s “Dancing with the Stars,” where celebrities are paired with professional dancers and compete for the winning title – but that was certainly not Emma Slater’s first go-round on a floor where a large audience was focused on her.
The Tamworth, England native began her dance training at the age of 10 and hasn’t let up since. She was featured in a George Michael music video, in the 2007 feature film “Mamma Mia,” the soundtrack on which she sang, and in 2005 at the age of 16, she joined the cast of “Simply Ballroom,” touring the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, and South Africa.
THE WEEKENDER: You accomplished quite a bit at a young age – the British Under 21 Latin American Championships in 2005-2006, for example – and you’ve just added more and more to your list of things you’ve done. Where do you find the drive to keep pushing and taking hold of new opportunities?
EMMA SLATER: I consider myself very fortunate to have experienced so much in my industry from a young age. Every single experience has inspired me to go bigger and bigger with my aspirations, and with each new opportunity, I only wanted more. When you love dance this much, there’s so much drive behind you, so you can live your passion every day.
W: What is it about dance and theater that has kept you in the industry from such a young age, up until now?
ES: I think the need and demand for live theatre will never die down (I hope not, anyway!). There’s a completely different feeling performing for a live audience than for a camera, and the audience in a theatre performance gets a one-off personal and up-close experience from the performers. It’s so raw. People all around the world love dance, and it’s beautiful to share it in the moment with them. That’s the reason I think theater will always thrive.
W: You’ve had your fair share of time both acting on stage and doing things centered around dance – do you prefer one to the other?
ES: I think the reason I am passionate about dance is the exact same personality trait and genetic makeup that makes me passionate about acting. It’s the same quality in me that links the two together. There’s nothing I love about dance that can be closely translated into acting. It’s all about emotion. I couldn’t pick between the two!
W: What’s your favorite type of music (or particular song) to dance to?
ES: I love to dance to a lot of songs. Right now, I’m going through an iconic classical music phase. But really, anything music can be connected to a person and interpreted in many ways. When I’m dancing Rumba, I like very minimalistic music. When I dance Samba, I love to hear a very strong heavy base.
W: Is there any moment in your career that you look at as your defining one?
ES: There are many points in my career that I believe shaped me as a performer, but perhaps the one that established me the most in the general public’s eye would be when I became a pro on Season 17 of “Dancing with the Stars,” partnered with the wonderful Bill Engvall. I can’t say enough about this experience for me and how special it was to dance with Bill. It is by far my favorite highlight in my career.
W: Congratulations on that, by the way. What was it like working with Bill Engvall?
ES: Bill Engvall used to walk in every day for hours of grueling hard work and dancing steps he’s not used to, but always, always would he walk in through the door with a 5-year-old mischievous smile on his face. I immediately knew he was the partner for me, and he showed me so much about life; lessons much bigger than dance. He is the most positive person I know, and we are very similar. No one in the show will forget Bill; he was a bit of a hero for all of us I think. Especially me.
W: Do you plan to dance on the show again next year? If so, what’s something you would like to do differently the second time around?
ES: If I get a crack at Season 18, I think I’m still kind of new to this, so I have a lot of feeling about what to do still. I’ve only had one (albeit great) experience with a celebrity. I would love to dance with Barry Weiss from “Storage Wars.” He’s another eccentric British person with a love for antiques; I think we’d get on well. On another level, though, I’ve learned some hugely valuable lessons in terms of what works on the show (creatively speaking), and I will take those lessons with me to any show here on out.
W: What’s in store for you in the future? Any projects you’re currently working on?
ES: It would be wonderful to stay on “DWTS” for the foreseeable future; it’s a fantastic outlet to showcase a dancer’s choreography, performances, and such. There’s also the side of me that wants to explore more avenues in acting, too; that’s something extremely important to me. On a different level, I’m very passionate about the awareness of mental disorders and personality disorders. I think mental health is an area I would love to actively create a better awareness in others. I would one day love to be involved in or perhaps create a charity/fundraising organization for this awareness.
GOOD OL COUNTRY BOY
Josh Turner is another member of the entertainment realm who garnered accolades at a young age; he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2007, making him one of the youngest members.
The country star has sold more than five million albums and garnered four No. 1 hits: “Your Man,” “Would You Go With Me,” “Why Don’t We Just Dance,” and “All Over Me.” The South Carolina native has been one of the top-selling male country artists since 2005.
THE WEEKENDER: Congratulations on the success of your fifth album, “Punching Bag.” In your opinion, what set that album apart from all the other ones?
JOSH TURNER: I had more of my own songs on there, eight of the 11 to be exact. Fans and listeners got to hear a lot more of my heart in that record, and it was a special record to me. The songs kind of came easily; I didn’t have to struggle looking for them. I really had a clear direction as to where I wanted to go with this record, and I really wanted it to be an uplifting record for people. It all kind of centered around the title track, “Punching Bag.” I feel like we all, at some point or another, feel like a punching bag, like life is beating us up. I tried to convey the message that we all need to be tough like a punching bag and take those hits.
W: Do you foresee yourself writing just as much on the next album, since the process was so natural for you?
JT: I’m always trying to contribute as much as I can to the record with original materials. It’s a great feeling. I try to put together the best records I can, whether I write the songs or not. Every record has been different; it’s ranged from three to eight songs that I’ve written. It just depends on what songs are available, what kind of direction we have, and what kind of timeframe. There are a lot of variables, and it’s always my goal to try to get as many songs of mine on there as I can. I don’t put any restrictions on that either; I just want the record to be as good as it possibly can be.
W: Do you have a favorite track on this album?
JT: There are actually two. I wrote “Pallbearer,” and that’s very different for me from anything I’ve written before. It’s a lot darker than anything I’ve written. There’s also “For the Love of God.” It’s a special song to me because I sat down and wanted to write something based on the very first commercial music I ever heard, which was folk gospel, blues gospel in my grandmomma’s house. It was Southern, old traditional country. I wanted to write something that was a bluegrass gospel song, and I had that title idea stowed away for quite a while. I’ve always heard people say that phrase, but always with a negative connotation, kind of like an exclamation. I wanted to turn it into something positive.
W: You’re a husband and father of three boys – how do you balance your personal and professional lives?
JT: I just take it one thing at a time. I try not to do too much or try not to expect too much. They’re all out here on the road with me, so we just try to give them what they need and make sure our schedule is lined out, and we manage our time like we’re supposed to. It’s all about keeping our priorities.
W: You are clearly hailed for your talent as a musician – how does it feel to also be recognized for other things, such as People Magazine calling you one of the “Hottest Guys” in country music?
JT: I’m flattered by it. Though it’s not something I sit around saying, “I need to make the list next time.” I’m at a point in my life where I work out and eat right and take care of myself. I realized I’m only young once. Our youth escapes us very quickly, so I try to capitalize on that and take advantage while I have it. I try to maintain my image as best I can, but I don’t let that overshadow the music stuff. Music comes first to me.