USA Today Review: Divas Live '99...
to save the music
By Elysa Gardner, Special for USA TODAY
NEW YORK It apparently takes more than talent,
charisma and attitude to be a diva. Judging by the scene that unfolded at the Beacon
Theater on Tuesday night for VH1's Divas Live '99, one also needs a lot of closet
This second annual event, which benefits VH1 Save the
Music, an education-based charity, and will be rebroadcast throughout the week, was an
eclectic pop concert on the surface. Headliners were Whitney Houston, Cher, Tina Turner
and Brandy, with guests LeAnn Rimes, Mary J. Blige, Faith Hill and self-styled male diva
Backstage, though, the proceedings were more like an
exclusive fashion show. Celebrity beauties such as Elizabeth Hurley and Claudia Schiffer
sashayed by as the singers changed into flashy, mercilessly form-fitting get-ups, from
Turner's gravity-defying little black dress to Houston's slick red-leather pantsuit.
Even Rimes, the baby diva at 16, sported no fewer than three outfits. Asked how much time
she had taken to get ready, Rimes said, "A couple of hours not too long."
Brandy, the second-youngest artist and the most demurely dressed, in a pair of long,
beaded gowns, also pleaded guilty to power primping: "I had to go to the spa, get my
nails done the whole girly-girl thing."
Granted, the performers were faced with plenty of sartorial competition and not
just from mannequins such as Schiffer, who showed up in a bustier made of straw and a
wraparound skirt that resembled a pink blanket, causing an observer to liken it to a
picnic in a dress. Celebrity attendees included such arbiters of style as domestic diva
Martha Stewart, couture diva Donatella Versace and entrepreneurial diva Donald Trump.
Ashley Judd, who appeared on the program, managed to stand out even in this crowd,
modeling two frilly dresses with full skirts, her head crowned with tulips and daffodils.
"It's something I've done since I was a little girl," Judd said of the flowers.
"I look back at old pictures ... and I'm sprouting."
Other stars attempted to pinpoint exactly what aside from a fabulous wardrobe
defines a diva. "A diva is somebody who knows what she wants and can go for
it," said the preternaturally cheerful Brandy, who was accompanied by her parents.
"I think they don't want any other girls around onstage them broads want to be
alone," offered Saturday Night Live regular Molly Shannon, who,
with castmates Cheri Oteri and Ana Gasteyer, satirized Shania Twain, Mariah Carey and
Celine Dion, respectively, in skits televised between songs.
"I think of opera divas, like Maria Callas," Sarah Michelle Gellar said. Alas,
there were to be no arias in this concert unless you counted the energetically
promoted selections from Elton John's new reworking of Aida, including the single
Written in the Stars, his duet with Rimes, whose tangy, resonant vocals were
unaffected by her palpable (and somewhat endearing) nervousness.
This year's diva-fest was longer on such crowd-pleasing collaborations than its
predecessor. John also teamed with Turner, with whom he will be touring this summer, for a
feisty The Bitch Is Back an apt selection, given that the two reportedly
had a tiff during rehearsals. Turner then was joined by Cher, who proclaimed herself
"the Lazarus of pop music," on Proud Mary.
Cher's performance of her effects-laden hit Believe caused many to speculate that
it was lip-synced, but her publicist said Wednesday that Cher "sang all her songs
live." Later, hip-hop ingenue Brandy and country siren Hill made an appealing odd
couple, covering the Bryan Adams chestnut (Everything I Do) I Do It for You.
The evening's most aggressively virtuoso performance, though, came from Houston, who
delivered her monster hit I Will Always Love You with a creamy perfection that
transcended the song's banality. Houston also did duets with Blige and two surprise
guests, rapper Treach and soulstress Chaka Khan: I'm Every Woman, a hit for both
Khan and Houston, closed the show. In a Kathie Lee Gifford-esque flourish, Houston
showcased daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, who sat onstage holding a microphone and looking
At a party after the show, Houston's mother, Cissy a diva herself was asked
if she thought her granddaughter would follow in Whitney's footsteps.
"Probably," she replied. "She's very conscientious." LeAnn, start
looking over your shoulder.