Big names and wannabes set to belt over the "Diva" title
O, Kelly. O, Leona and Adele. O, Jordin and ... Miley? It's true. Miley Cyrus will be one of the five marquee performers on "VH1 Divas", the landmark, and popular, special series that returns to the small screen Sept. 17 after a five- year hiatus. Does that make the 16-year-old millionaire a diva? Many would laugh at the idea. But others will take it and run with it, inducting Cyrus into an elite, ladies-only club of performers who define our times.
We're well past the days of defining diva in a Maria Callas sense. Pop culture has adopted the word from the opera world to represent its standout leading ladies - the brash and the brassy, the silky and the sassy. Divas are still larger than life, but the word is less pejorative and more majority-rules these days. And these days are diva days. This year could be the comeback of the diva. Not since Mariah Carey sold 6-million-plus copies of "The Emancipation of Mimi" (a pop-R&B record) in 2005 have the ladies had such a presence in mainstream music culture.
It helps that there's a new generation of divas upping the profile. "There's an amazing crop of hardworking young women out there," said Rick Krim, executive vice president of music and talent relations at VH1. "They are the reason why we're able to bring ('VH1 Divas') back, because we're focusing on the new, emerging artists. And we're thrilled with the lineup that we have."
"VH1 Divas" went away for five years "because it needed to," according to Krim, who said the franchise needed a break to allow the talent to replenish itself. As it turns out, "emerging" is the perfect word to describe the lineup for this year's show.
Kelly Clarkson is the most legitimate of the entire group - a pop star who has four big records under her belt. Miley Cyrus is the head-scratcher of the class, given her age, demographic appeal and relative inexperience. Adele and Leona Lewis each have only one full-length to their names, but their zingy, unfiltered voices are fitting of the title. And Jordin Sparks has the marketing machine that positions her opening for the Jonas Brothers and Britney Spears. It makes sense that they found her a spot at this table.
Compare this list with past "Divas" performers - Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, Beyonce Knowles and others - and you'll notice the industry shifting and settling. Four of the five new divas are products of television shows: two "Idols", one Disney star and a winner (Lewis) of British talent reality series "The X Factor".
"It sort of points to the new world we live in," said Krim. "They all certainly worked hard to get there. They just got there in a different way." It's a far cry from Whitney Houston's rise to fame, which came immediately upon the release of her eponymous 1985 debut. Houston's new "I Look to You", out Tuesday on Arista, is one of the year's most anticipated comeback albums. It's Houston's first full-length since 2002's "Just Whitney", and it will likely be her best-received record since 1998's "My Love Is Your Love".
The new disc's "Million Dollar Bill" is a neo-disco natural made specifically for the dance floor, and Houston sounds top-notch in the heavily produced track. The titular ballad is overwrought, but Houston has always had a way of taking the overwrought and making a hit out of it. Her all-too-familiar alto guides the record through each explosion of vocal fireworks, and while it sometimes sounds anachronistic, it also sounds distinctly Whitney - and fans have missed her.
"I Look to You" is evidence of a diva's power. It's not even released yet, but it's already one of the most talked-about titles of the year. When Streisand releases "Love Is the Answer" on September 29, the world will pay attention. Sure, Diana Krall produced the record. That's a big deal. An even bigger deal? It's Barbra - Babs! She doesn't have the numbers she once had. But she's a legend, a diva.
The same day Streisand's record hits the streets, Carey's "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel" and Madonna's "Celebration" land on shelves. "Memoirs" could reposition Carey at the top of the pop charts, and that would be huge. (With Carey's last record, "E=MC2", she beat Elvis Presley's record of No. 1 singles on the Billboard chart for a solo artist. It's all gravy from here.) And even though "Celebration" is a best-of comp, Madonna fans are excited that it's being released as a single CD, a double-CD and a DVD - and leave it to a diva to excite the masses by repackaging the old as something new and flashy.
O, Whitney. O, Mariah. O, Barbra and Madonna.
(The Denver Post)
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