[ 07-03-2008 ]
FANS of vocal powerhouse Celine Dion don’t have to worry about “taking chances” at her upcoming concert in Malaysia next month. Though the Canadian megastar songstress has been away from the concert circuit for about seven years (first a two-year hiatus for personal reasons followed by a five-year stint at Las Vegas’ famous Caesars Palace), Dion is still the reigning diva today and the number of South Africans who attended her nine-city South African tour last month – 300,000 – more than confirms that.
According to Dispatchonline (a South African news site), die-hard Dion fan Liesl Whittington who attended the concert in Port Elizabeth could not gush enough.
“The show was out of this world. It was absolutely amazing. You can see she put all her heart and soul into this concert,” said Whittington.
For Lance Pretorius (husband of a Dion fan), the experience wasn’t half bad.
“My wife loves Celine Dion and she begged me to take her to the concert. I have to admit that she was fantastic and a part of it was so romantic,” said Pretorius who is from Uitenhage.
Dion’s Taking Chances World Tour follows the November release of her latest album Taking Chances. The tour kicked off on Valentine’s Day in South Africa and includes many first-time stops, including Malaysia.
Leaving Las Vegas
After performing more than 710 shows to an estimated three million fans during her five-year stint at the Caesars Palace, Dion decided it was time for her to hit the road once again, with her family in tow.
Taking Chances, her first studio album since the multi-platinum One Heart which was released in 2003, features collaborations with Linda Perry, Dave Stewart, Kara DioGuardi, Ne-Yo, Ben Moody and many others.
The album is said to be “very personal and revelatory” and Dion herself has shared that the album reflected a new phase in her artistic development.
“I think this album represents a positive evolution in my career. It’s not a new Celine. There was no deliberate plan after five years to do something else. But I’m like everyone. I’m 39 now. I don’t look like I did 10 years ago, I dress differently – and I don’t sing the same. I have more edge and felt like doing something different,” said Dion in a Billboard Magazine interview late last year.
Though Dion has been synonymous with romantic ballads to date, Taking Chances sees an edgier and more contemporary artiste moving away from the schmaltzy, sappy ballads that have made her a staple at karaoke lounges and wedding receptions.
Dion was reported saying: “When people sent me all those romantic songs to make people feel better or to cry, I went there because I had to prove myself.
“Those songs are great and made me who I am today. It wasn’t a mistake, but I didn’t have a lot of choices. Do you think I wanted to hold those long notes forever and kill myself onstage every night? But everybody always sent the hardest songs to sing to me: ‘If somebody can hit those notes, it’s Celine Dion.’ And I can do it; I can hit them, baby.
“Now maybe we’re all tired of those 10-second notes – the writers, the people – and they’ve evolved, too. Maybe no one thought I was capable of doing anything else, but I’ve got Heart and Doobie Brothers and Janis Joplin and Creedence Clearwater Revival inside of me, too.”
So far the album has received mixed reviews but the consensus is that Dion’s vocals are still smoking and her range, as astounding as ever.
A pause, not an end
In her 25-plus years in the music business, Dion has achieved what many artistes only dream of. She has won five Grammys and has sold more than 200 million albums (both French and English) worldwide.
But, though she has had numerous hits – her first big hit in America was her duet with Peabo Bryson, on the title song for the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, and her third and fourth English albums The Colour of My Love and Falling Into You (1996) were huge successes – what catapulted her to superstar status was her hit My Heart Will Go On from the album Let’s Talk About Love which became the love theme for the blockbuster movie Titanic in 1997. The song is the biggest selling soundtrack of all time and has become Dion’s signature song.
By the late 1990s, Dion was one of the biggest contemporary stars alive, and an invitation to perform on VH1’s Divas Live special in 1998 with the legendary “Queen” Aretha Franklin and fellow superstars Mariah Carey, Shania Twain and Gloria Estefan just emphasised this.
During the same time, Dion also received among the highest honours in her native Canada: Officer of the Order of Canada for Outstanding Contribution to the World Of Contemporary Music and the Officer of the National Order of Quebec. In 1999, she was inducted into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame.
There seemed no stopping Dion.
However, in late 1999, the beloved star announced she was taking a two-year hiatus to spend more time with husband and manager Rene Angelil and to start a family. Her decision, though a shock to her fans, seemed to come at the perfect time as soon after, Angelil was diagnosed with cancer.
Dion brushed off talk of her retirement or that a hiatus would spell the end of an illustrious career.
She said later: “It (taking two years off) was crucial. I needed balance and I needed to get away from show business. It was just too much. After Beauty and the Beast and Titanic and everything else, so many things being said ... too much publicity, TV, radio, big hits ... too much, too much.
“I didn’t want people to say, ‘Oh my God, her again’. I wanted a life career and not people to be tired of seeing or hearing me, so I wanted a break,” she said.
It isn’t hard to see where her strong sense of family comes from. The youngest of 14 children, Claudette Dion (that’s her birth name) grew up in the small village of Charlemagne in Quebec, Canada, without any creature comforts.
Her father, Adehmar, was a butcher and supported his family of 16 with just $165 a week. To save 10 cents on bus fare, he would walk to work every day.
Nevertheless, the family was close and their lives were enriched by music.
Said George-Hebert Germain (Dion’s authorised biographer): “She was born in a house where everybody was singing or playing music. Guitar, piano drums, everything. She was raised in a family where music was so important.”
At age two, Dion began singing for her family from atop the dining room table and when she was five she gave her first public performance at her brother Michel’s wedding.
In a recent interview with CNN, Celine recalled: “I remember singing for my brother at his wedding. I sang a couple of songs. When I started to feel the love and the warmth of the audience, it got me. I said to myself, ‘Really this is what I want to do all my life. I want to be a singer.’”
She held on to that dream until 1980 when her mother, Therese, wrote a song for 12-year-old Dion titled It Was Only a Dream. They recorded a demo of the song and one of her brothers sent it to a fledgling producer in Canada named Rene Angelil.
Angelil set up an audition for Dion in 1981 and as soon as Dion sang, Angelil started crying. He promised to make Dion a star and even mortgaged his house to pay for her debut album, La Voix du Bon Dieu.
The press loved Dion’s voice and a newspaper headline declared her, “Une Nouvelle Judy Garland!” (A New Judy Garland).
In 1982, she won the gold medal in Tokyo at the Yamaha World Song Festival, the first in a long line of accolades she would later pick up.
Her own love ballad
Dion dropped out of school at the end of eighth grade and followed Angelil to France to work on her international career.
By 1985, the 17-year-old Dion was a major star in Canada and France but Angelil wanted her to conquer the United States as well.
For this to happen, Dion had to transform herself physically. Her teeth were capped, her hairstyle was changed as was her wardrobe and she took English classes. Two years later, Dion, 19, debuted her new look with her French album, Incognito.
The move worked and her career got the kick-start it needed. Dion released her debut English-language album, Unison, in the United States in September 1990. In 1992, If You Asked Me to reached the Top 40s just as her second album Celine Dion hit the stores.
Something else got started too: Dion and Angelil’s relationship grew from professional to romantic and for five years the duo kept their relationship quiet, primarily because of the 26-year age difference. The two finally wed in 1994 and in 2001 the couple had their one and only child, son Rene Charles.