MacKenzie Porter has never met Shania Twain, but she’d love to follow in her footsteps.
Much like her Canadian counterpart, Porter is a star in her native country with three consecutive number-one singles — the first female artist since Twain to notch that accomplishment — and a successful acting career with her role in the sci-fi series “Travelers” on Netflix. Her 2020 wedding to actor Jake Etheridge was even featured in People magazine.
Even so, she has yet to make her mark in the U.S. — but she’s well on her way. Her single with Dustin Lynch, “Thinking ‘Bout You,” had a six-week stint at the top of the country charts and put Porter on the map in America.
“I’m trying to grind it out in Nashville and the U.S. and starting at a different level,” she says. “It’s definitely weird. I live in Nashville now, so when I go home to Canada, it’s like this big confidence boost because I get to play really big shows. Honestly, it’s probably good for my mental health because I can gain confidence in Canada and then get a little dose of reality here. But things have been building really nicely.”
That momentum was starting to build when the pandemic hit and Porter’s plans to release a single to country radio were brought to a screeching halt. “I had a single, it was going to be this big year for me — and then everything halted,” she says. Because she’d only made it through half of her planned radio tour, her record label said she’d have to wait for the pandemic to be over before releasing the song.
She was disappointed but when she got a call a few months later asking if she’d like to audition for a duet with Lynch, she jumped at the chance. She recorded her part, as did a number of other singers, and waited to hear.
“We went into the studio, I cut a vocal that I felt really confident about and then I didn’t hear anything for months. Then one day, Dustin followed me on Instagram and I told my team, ‘I think this means I’m going to do the song’,” she recalls. “And they’re like, ‘No, it definitely doesn’t, chill out.’ Then again, I didn’t hear anything, but a couple of weeks after that, he called and asked if I would be on it.”
The song is a crowd pleaser at Porter’s concerts, where she performs her Canadian hits and tackles “Thinking ‘Bout You” alone. But she will be able to perform it with Lynch a few times this summer when they play some festivals together with Sam Hunt. And a busy summer it will be. She plans to play some shows in Australia and is also on the verge of finalizing “a really cool fall opening slot,” she said.
Beyond that, she hopes to soon release that long-awaited single to country radio. “I cut two new songs in the studio and we think we have our single out of this batch. Obviously, it needs to start reacting online before we go to radio with it, but we feel really good about it.”
And Porter believes she can finally “make it” in the States. “I’m confident, and maybe that’s delusional, but I really do believe I will, which is why I’ve been working on it for so long. I will be the first person to say that technically, I’m not Ariana Grande, but when I sing, it sounds honest.”
That honesty and relatability also connected with Nasty Gal, which is bringing her on board as an ambassador and will release an assortment called the MacKenzie Collection early this month in what marks Porter’s first fashion partnership.
“I’m playing all these shows and I’m at the level right now where we’re building,” Porter says. “So I have to get clothes I can afford and still look cool on stage. Nasty Gal is a company that I have shopped for years, they reached out to us and the partnership developed.”
Porter admits to being a real fashion lover, as evidenced by her shoot with WWD at the Moxy Times Square hotel, where she worked with stylist Krista Roser and selected two different looks: a fire engine red ensemble by RVN and an all-white outfit from Brandon Maxwell.
“I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Canada on a cattle and bison ranch,” she says. “My parents are not into fashion. My dad’s the kind of guy who will get a free T-shirt from the local RV dealer and that’s what he’ll wear. But since I was a little kid, I was always enthralled with magazines and just loved the fashion side of things and bringing that into country music. Sometimes that’s an area that’s missing a bit in this industry. I love designers but I also love Zara and Urban Outfitters, more accessible stuff that I can afford when I don’t have a stylist and it’s just me.”
As her career progresses, Porter may be able to dabble more in designer merchandise, but she’s fine to mix it up a bit until that time comes. And she’s determined to do everything she can to replicate her success in Canada in the U.S.
“If there’s anything else I felt strongly about or could do, I probably would because this is a hard industry, but this is the one thing that I know in my heart I’m supposed to be doing,” she says. “My path hasn’t been an upward trajectory the whole time, that’s what entertainment is, but I don’t know if I would do anything else, I can’t, I’m not good at anything else.”