FranklinIs Connected

Sara Evans

Sara Evans

By Brandy Blanton and Catherine Anderson

Photography by Robert Ascroft

Published in Southern Exposure Magazine

She is recognized for her glamorous look and dynamic stage presence, but on this quiet summer morning, Sara Evans sits comfortably in a chair at her home in Franklin.

She has been selected numerous times for national and regional publications’ Most Beautiful People polls, including People Magazine and, most recently, Country Weekly. This day, however, she is dressed simply in a T-shirt and jeans with that lush gold-kissed, rich brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She’d just returned from a performance in Lexington, a little hoarse from the show the night before and a three-hour phone conversation with her father.

Later in the day, the multi-nominated vocalist and songwriter will leave with her husband, Craig Schelske, and their three children, Avery, Olivia and Audrey (all under the age of 7), for five straight days of touring with Brad Paisley on the last leg of the Time Well Wasted Tour. Evans is promoting her latest album, Real Fine Place, and prepares to shoot a video in L.A. for her latest single, “You’ll Always Be My Baby.”

It’s only been nine years since the Missouri native made her country music debut with Three Chords and the Truth. Its traditional style collection of songs earned so much critical acclaim that Vince Gill, Martina McBride, George Jones and Alison Krauss signed on to sing for her second album, No Place That Far, which garnered a top hit single.

Evans’ explorations into pop and rock influences broadened her audience as well as her scope; by her third album, Born To Fly, her creative risks earned her four top singles and a CMA nomination for 2001 Album of the Year. It went double-platinum and brought a multitude of other nominations.

Restless followed next, bringing an ACM nomination in 2005, while Evans was in the studio creating Real Fine Place – the benchmark album she used to stretch convention and further establish her own unique sound. Most recently, she won the ACM Female Vocalist of the Year award and R&R’s top honor for Female Vocalist of the Year from its 2006 Readers’Poll. Evans’ quick rise to recognition doesn’t appear to affect the singer’s down home values.

She answers questions candidly about her dreams, her role as a commercial spokesperson, her commitment to fight the heartbreak caused by eating disorders, her family and why they have three homes throughout small town America.

When asked about their choice to live outside of Nashville, Evans smiles broadly and says: “I would not live anywhere else but Franklin. It’s my favorite. I swear to you, God led us (here) – I wanted to find somewhere that would be really normal for the kids; because there’s a fine line between being private and being isolated. This is the most phenomenal neighborhood – it’s small … and all these farms around here are leased for years to come.”

The country singer/songwriter and her politically active husband also have a home in Missouri (an old farmhouse) where she grew up. And they have a house in Oregon, where Schelske was raised.

“Our place in Oregon is a little old rickety farm house – it is not fancy in any way. When we go to Oregon it’s country life – barefoot. I want cozy and comfortable and normal.”

As for her Missouri roots, Evans explains, “Growing up, my siblings were the only people that I had to play with. And our house, that my mom and step-dad still live in and I grew up in – it’s so small. Every single night of my life, I slept with one or two of my sisters. Every single night, even until I graduated high school and moved out. We had a double bed, and the three of us would sleep together. We are so close because of that. We do not fight, we do not talk disrespectfully to each other. We really, really value each other.”

Evans includes her family as much as she can in her career. After all, she’s one of seven

children (and, ironically, so is her husband!). Younger sister, Ashley, lives here, as does her brother, Matt, her bandleader, bass player, co-writer and background vocalist. Her sisters, Lesley Lyons and Ashley Simpson, appear on five songs on Real Fine Place.

Her mother, Patricia, contributes to the supporting chorus on “In These Four Walls.” She is more than pleased to have had her father, Jack Evans, add harmonies to “You’ll Always Be My Baby.”

“It is very cool,” she says of her dad’s singing on the album. “He is such a great singer and so shy – he’s never sung before except in his car or to us. He did such a great job, he was super-nervous. And I’m so glad that it gets to be my next single.”

While it’s firmly established that her love of family is rooted to her core, with music as her means of expression, Evans recently made the decision to reach further out into popular culture to spread a message that is very personal to her. After experiencing her own brush with unhealthy weight loss, and then witnessed her best friend Alison’s devastating struggle with anorexia, Evans approached The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to offer her assistance. She was appointed as an ambassador. In addition, she created the Sara Evans Fund to raise awareness and funding to aid in education about the illness – particularly to the young women who are most susceptible.

Evans’ relationship with Alison began as an employer. Alison was hired to be the nanny for Avery and Olivia, and soon the two women became very close. In their first year traveling and touring, Evans gave birth to Olivia and began dieting shortly afterward to lose the baby weight. As time went on, Evans and Alison began to diet together, but Evans admits that it started to grow unhealthy.

“She was getting thin, I was getting super thin,” Evans says.

Thankfully for Evans, it ended sooner than later. The singer became pregnant with Audrey, and her dieting ceased. But for Alison, it was a different story. The disease had grasped hold of her and by the time she was less than 70 pounds, she couldn’t drive or pick up the children in her arms. Alison went through treatment and a relapse. Evans felt traumatized and helpless as she witnessed her friend’s battle extend to two years. Alison is now in recovery, but it’s a slippery ledge she walks, and Evans wants to utilize her own position of celebrity to support her friend and those struggling with eating disorders. She is committed to help raise funding for research and education.

“I felt like something had to be done about it,” Evans explains. “I watched Alison go through this battle and not be able to find help because she didn’t have insurance. And even if she did, it wouldn’t have covered eating disorders, because those are classified as a mental disorder – and insurance doesn’t cover that.”

Evans knows that often celebrities are emulated by young people. But she wants to be a voice that dispels beauty myths.

“Of course, I don’t wake up looking like this,” she says. “I have a team of hair and make up stylists. I want girls to realize that this is not normal. Not everyone has hair, make up and wardrobe. And watching Alison go through what she went through scared me to death! I would die if one of my daughters had an eating disorder. It’s so prevalent now. It’s the biggest killer among girls ages 15 to 24, more so than any other form of death.”

Evans is specific, “My message to these girls is, ‘Don’t look at these too-thin girls and idolize them, you need to focus on being healthy.’ And fathers should never tease their little girls about being chubby. That is consistently what you hear from girls who struggle with eating disorders: ‘My dad used to tease me;’or ‘My brothers used to tease me.’ It is the hardest mental illness to treat. It’s the hardest disease to overcome – it’s awful.”

While Evans will be heard on public service announcements for this cause close to her heart, her face will also be seen in another way. She has just been signed to represent the September launch of JOHNSON’S® SOFTLOTION™ product line as the spokesperson. Her natural enthusiasm shows when asked about it.

“It’s really great line of products. It’s very light – you don’t feel greasy and has a wonderful fragrance.”

Evans is a multi-faceted, talented woman – it shows in her songwriting, her family skills and her personal causes. Looking to the future in relation to her fans, Evans admits she has certain career dreams.

“I want to do a movie,” she says. “And I want to produce a record. I want to start a publishing company and I’d love to sign other writers. My brother and I have always dreamed of what we want to do together, and we want to write commercials … we have a lot of things we want to do. As the children get older, I don’t think I’ll be touring all the time.”

Her bottom-line self-description? She smiles that brilliant grin and says, “Just that I’m a normal country girl.”

For more stories like this, read Southern Exposure Magazine.