Celine Dion on her long-awaited return to Asia, and being a mum
In 2013, Celine Dion was on stage alongside Chinese singer Song Zuying, at the Spring Festival Gala in Beijing, layering the popular folk song Jasmine Flower (‘Mo Li Hua’) with her signature velvety trills and rich vocal flourishes, quite handily out-singing Song, as it turns out.
Five years later, during a January evening press conference in Las Vegas, when asked about that particular musical interlude, Dion gamely picked up a microphone and reprised – for a brief minute anyway – the Mandarin song she
had so assuredly sung years earlier. In no time, every Chinese-speaking person
in the room was accompanying her.
“Sing with me,” she asked good-naturedly of the gathering. “Please.”
This is why millions of people around the world love Celine Dion. Sure – there’s the impassioned, chest-thumping crooning, the sheer conviction with which night after night she belts out lyrics that have been seared into the public consciousness. “You’re here, there’s nothing I fear, and I know that my heart will go on.” There’s her elevated status as a pop icon for the ages, such as a Barbra or Mariah or Beyoncé, for whom no further introduction is needed. There’s the diva assignation – the private jets, entourages, covetable wardrobe and crown-worthy jewels, and that cultivated air of untouchability.
Yet Dion’s approachability was on full view that evening in Las Vegas. The auditorium of the 4,000-plus seat Colosseum theatre at Caesars Palace
where she has been in residence since 2003 was dark – though the dedicated
Celine Dion boutique next to the theatre was doing brisk business.
The superstar was seated in the middle of the stage that she dominates many nights a week, talking about her upcoming Asian tour, which will include two
nights at Cotai Arena, The Venetian Macao.
“Forgive me. I’m not at my best,” she says, her voice slightly raspy; she had cancelled a show the previous night because of illness. She was in a
charcoal coloured ensemble, spare and sculptural, the kind of outfit that only someone of her willowy silhouette could pull off. She beamed at the gathering
of journalists, most of whom had flown in from Asia.
“If you get tired, it’s fine,” she says. “I’ll sing you a lullaby.”
The 49-year-old singer’s last performance at Cotai Arena was in 2008, when she travelled with her late husband and long-time manager, Rene Angelil, and
their oldest son Rene-Charles, who was seven at the time.
Since then, she has had two more boys – twins Nelson and Eddy, who are seven, who will join their mother on her Asian tour. On this upcoming trip, which will include a night at the Tokyo Dome, Dion is hoping that her twins “learn
how to make sushi” – a food with which they are quite enchanted, she says.
The Canadian superstar concedes that she doesn’t know why it has taken her a decade to return to Asia, but she doesn’t really question it.
“It’s not me,” she says. “Show business people think about the decisions they are making. And I trust them. But we will make up for lost time.”
The tour looks gruelling enough. Kicking off in Tokyo on June 26, Dion and her entourage will then head to the cavernous 15,000-seat Cotai Arena. From there, she goes on to two nights in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands, the Sentul International Convention Center in Jakarta, two nights at the Taipei Arena, then to Manila’s Mall of Asia Arena before capping off her month-long tour at the Impact Arena in Bangkok.
“It’s big for us,” Dion says. “We are doing this tour because we care, and we want to share.”
Dion shot to stardom after her 1991 duet with Peabo Bryson on the title track of the Disney film Beauty and the Beast – but her lustre shows no signs of fading. With more than 200 million records sold and a houseful of awards, she is one of the most successful singers of all time.
Her profound love for music and performing keep her busy; many big-name recording artists might be expected to scale back the international touring and endless appearances. Not Dion.
“[Performing live] is what we feed our souls with,” she says. “It’s what we need to give back to our voices. When people are singing with us, we can’t ask for more.”
Her concerts are considered high-glam events, with Dion in couture gowns that are the fascination of the fashion world and the antithesis of the kitsch normally expected at these things. Even on stage at a massive stadium, she dominates, her potent voice resonating into every corner. For the most part, people know what to expect.
“I will sing the repertoire that people want to hear,” she says. “I’m not doing any brand new songs. People want me to sing the songs they fell in love with, a mix of songs that I haven’t sung in a while, like Power of Love, with songs like My Heart Will Go On. I have so many. You don’t have to worry.”
Dion concedes that despite years of live performances, she still occasionally encounters nerves and stage fright.
“I love to be live on stage. I love seeing the energy and the love from the audience. But we get nervous too. We forget words. We get sick. We have extravagant lives but we are normal people.”
Before music and stardom though, is her role as mother, one she talks about with concern and sincerity.
“Being a role model for my children, because I want them to be independent - for me, that’s extremely important,” she says. “I’m very proud of them.”
Might they follow her into the business?
“They will be on stage maybe 10 years from now. But first …” She mimics the well-worn act of texting. “There is nothing wrong with this. But at the same time, I tell them, ‘use words, talk to me, look at me.’ There’s a time for everything. I’m trying my best.”
Celine Dion will be performing at Cotai Arena, The Venetian Macao on June 29 and 30. For ticketing information, visit http://www.cotaiticketing.com