By Tom Paulu
Two years after she left Longview, Sharnessa Shelton's life is pulsating like the dance-track beat of her Christian pop group.
"All the Way to Heaven," a single by V*Enna, has been released to Christian radio stations and is due in stores next month, with an album on Essential, a major Christian label, and touring to follow next summer.
Sharnessa, 22, exuded confidence (with a hint of a British accent she's picked up living in England) during an interview at the Longview home of her parents, Dave and Barb Shelton.
Though she has always hoped to be a performer, she knows it's unusual for a career to come together so quickly. "It's very rare."
Sharnessa and her Swedish fiancé, Samuel Sandén, flew over from London for a belated Christmas get-together with Sharnessa's family. After 13 days of catching up on local doings,
and preparing for their August wedding the young couple jetted back to England.
(They will most likely not be back in Longview
again until a week before the wedding.)
Sharnessa has been singing and dancing as long as she can remember. "From when I was little, I was always writing plays and dances," she said. She studied tap and jazz dance at High Step
Academy and Performing Arts Centre (now
Academy), and choreographed and
directed a Christmas production at Shekinah Christian Center at
She was homeschooled by her parents, Sharnessa said -- Barb has been a pillar of the
local homeschooling movement. (I would
actually remove the word "local" as my work and influence have
been much more on a national basis than local, which I have been part of
only minimally and sporadically -- by choice.) She remembers her mother leading "Happy Hearts" aerobics classes for her and her friends.
According to her mother, Sharnessa has always been an adventurer, (I'd
actually say "she has always had an adventurous spirit" - a
little different connotation) and after finishing her home school studies in 1996, she headed to New York, where she worked as a nanny for a year to save
money to attend the School of Creative
Ministries in London the following year. She got to see all the big shows on Broadway.
(She actually only got to see two, but got to see lots of the
sights in New York -- on a shoestring.) "It was such a blessing. I've always loved big cities."
So in the fall of 1998, she moved to another one -- London. She enrolled in the International Bible Institute of London, an arm of the charismatic Kensington Temple. The school has a one-year program in the performing
arts called the "School of Creative
Ministries." Sharnessa majored in singing, and taught a
little dance and choreography in
the school's productions. "I prefer dancing, not that I don't like
singing, but dance is really my passion."
At the school, she auditioned to be in a new band being formed by Mark Pennells and Zarc Porter, who have been involved in Christian pop themselves. They wanted a band "not just for Christian entertainment but for getting out and doing evangelism," Sharnessa said.
Pennells came up with the name V*Enna, which is pronounced like the city in Austria."
He thought it was girly and fresh and cute," she said.
Pennells and Porter write the songs while holed up in Scotland. "They pray and bang away on the
piano for a week ," Sharnessa said. "I personally haven't been a songwriter so far, but I'm open to being inspired."
Sharnessa and Lucy Britten do the singing, and V*Enna has four backup dancers.
Sharnessa now does the choreography for the group,
and also dances, as does Lucy. The female duo filmed a promotional video in which they skip through the streets of Paris, smiling and giggling together.
The debut song, "All the Way to Heaven," is a light pop tune with a dance-track beat. The group's web site describes it as "a little bit Abba, a little bit
Britney." And, yes, V*Enna is designed to appeal to the same people who like Britney Spears -- the target audience is 5 to 14 years old.
(However, Sharnessa's 47-year-old mom,
71-year-old grandma, 32-year-old aunt and 6-year-old nephew LOVE it!!!
And it's not just because they're biased toward Sharnessa.)
She plans to meet with fans personally during V*Enna's planned tour next summer in the United States. "I want to really challenge kids to not be
lukewarm, to make good decisions for
their lives, to not just go along with the
crowd but to influence the world and not be influenced by
it." And, of course, to inspire young people to become more deeply
devoted to God. "We hope to be good role models."
V*Enna's website is
"All the Way to Heaven" (included in the two-song
maxi-single shown below) can be downloaded at this
site. (There will actually be a total
of 7 songs: 3 mixes of each of the 2 songs, and a karaoke version
'Wait for the one God has intended'
One of Sharnessa's messages is for teen-agers to "wait for the one God has intended for them." That's what she did, not dating through her junior and senior high school years. "I knew it was a waste of time." When she met the right man, "I wanted to give him everything I had, not the leftovers."
The right man turned out to be a handsome Swede who once dreamed of being a pilot but ended up a Pentecostal preacher
(pastor) in the heart of London.
Sharnessa and Sam met at the Bible Institute, where he attended the regular two-year program. Sam, 23, is a fourth-generation Pentecostal from Sweden. "My dream was to be in the Air Force," he said, and he visited the United States in an air cadet program when he was a teen-ager.
A couple of years ago, he was a sergeant in the Swedish Air Force, encouraged by superiors to go to the officers' academy. But he had also applied to the Bible Institute
-- and was accepted the day before he had to decide whether to make the Air Force a career. "I said, 'OK, God, I' think I'll go ahead" on a flight of faith.
Sam is acting pastor at a Pentecostal church in Covent Garden, in the heart of London's West End theater district. Most of the members are in their 20s, said Sam, who was nursing a sore neck sustained during a lesson in American-style football.
(It was actually a full-fledged game -- played
after a short lesson from a friend. It was a fun opportunity to see
Sam's athletic side!)
Sam will be the assistant manager of V*Enna and the group's pastor-on-the-road.
The couple became engaged last September. "He proposed at Tower Bridge," Sharnessa said. "It was very beautiful." They plan to marry Aug. 19 in Longview."
We've got loads of people coming from Nashville and New York and Sweden," she said.
In fact, Sharnessa envisions having 14 bridesmaids and
spent a good deal of time in Longview personally asking them to be in
She plans to pick up some Swedish. "We're not having kids until I learn it"
she said with a giggle -- but is serious.
Christian song may get secular audience
Sharnessa acknowledged that much of pop music is downright un-Christian. "A lot of people really rank on pop
-- but everybody knows (is familiar with) it." She's comfortable with V*Enna's sound. "It's catchy ... it stays in your head a lot of the time. ... We just hope to be lights in the darkness."
"All the Way to Heaven" will be released to secular stations as well as Christian ones, and stands a chance of becoming a crossover hit. "If it happens, it's brilliant," Sharnessa said, but the group's writers don't aim it in that direction."
They're just going to write what God's inspiring them to write" and
if the secular market catches on, great.
V*Enna's record company, Essential, also produces Jars of Clay, a Christian crossover group that won a 1997 Grammy award in the pop/contemporary gospel album category.
Sharnessa said V*Enna wasn't created to make money. "It's not our goal to get rich off this, but
if it happens it would be nice."
Regardless of the message and the money, there's a high to pop music that's mesmerizing.
"I just love performing... the rush before you go on the and the rush when you go on... it's such a blast."
both an author and the mom of Sharnessa, I would have ended the
article on a different note other than Sharnessa's point about
performing only because that isn't her focus. In fact, she added
it at the very end of the interview, after Tom asked her if there was
anything else she wanted to add. She had prefaced her comment saying:
"With all the talk about the spiritual aspects, I just want to add
do love performing..."
Sharnessa is thankful to be in the unique position of being able to have
the best of both worlds: sharing her faith and using her talents
in the process!