Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Good, the Bad & the Sometimes Catty: What Stars Told Me About Themselves and Each Other!

"I won't lie: I love 'You Lie' more than I do our duet of 'A Moment Like This.'"
Every good journalist lives for the story -- or at the very least, a great sound bite, or an unexpected revelation. For me, during my years interviewing music stars, some of my favorite moments were when they made off-the-cuff comments that wouldn't necessarily make it into my story but somehow revealed something juicy about themselves. Even better: when they revealed something juicy about someone else, especially a fellow star.

When I met Kelly Clarkson at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2002, shortly after her American Idol win, we bonded over our shared love of her future tour mate, Reba McEntire, whom I've never met but with whom I once shared a friendly wave from across a crowded Staples Center at the American Music Awards. Of all the things I could have asked Clarkson -- "What's Simon like? What's Justin Guarini like? What's it like being the first American Idol?" -- I went with this: "What's your favorite Reba song?"

Her response told me more about her than the answer to any of those other questions would have. "You Lie," she answered without a pause. She was officially my favorite singer ever (for the rest of the night), not for her good music -- she'd yet to release anything but the dreadful "A Moment Like This" Idol winner's single -- but for her excellent taste in it.

Dusty Springfield had impeccable taste, too. Like so many others (including Clarkson, who performed at least three Queen of Soul songs during her Idol run), she was in awe of Aretha Franklin. "I just about fell out," she said of their one and only diva summit, when, during the chart ride of "Son of a Preacher Man," Franklin, who had been offered the song before Springfield and turned it down, joined Dusty on an elevator, put her hand on her shoulder and said, simply, "Girl" -- nothing else. Had Springfield lived to receive the Order of the British Empire from that other Queen (she died on the day she was due to receive her award of officer), I doubt it would have been as much of an honor.

Mary bows to Sir Elton, not Queen Aretha.
Mary J. Blige, however, didn't seem to be quite as enthralled by the Queen (of Soul -- we never discussed Elizabeth II). When I asked her who, of all of her collaborators, she enjoyed working with the most, she took me by surprise. "Most people would expect me to say Aretha, but no," she said, almost defiantly. "My favorite was Elton John. He was always so sweet to me." She also revealed that her 1997 Share My World CD, her first to debut atop the Billboard 200 album chart, was her least favorite of her albums.

Boy George, who would probably beg to differ on Elton John, told me how shocked he was when Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant sat down at the piano and began to play it when the two were collaborating on his 1992 comeback hit "The Crying Game." (Pet Shop Boys, who had been responsible for Springfield's later-in-life resurgence, produced it.) He also said he didn't think Madonna was a bad actor. She just needed to let go of her vanity and do something like "what Farrah Fawcett did in The Burning Bed."

Basia was star struck and shocked when she met Sting at an industry event, and he actually knew who she was. "I wonder if that tantric yoga sex thing is true," she wondered days later, during our interview. Sting never collaborated with Basia musically -- he was surprised when I told him that Basia didn't think he'd know who she was -- but he probably would have if she'd made the request. When I asked Sting why he has no self-restraint when it comes to collaborators -- P. Diddy? Toby Keith? -- he replied, "I have a hard time saying no."

k.d. lang and Joan Armatrading would have been worthier collaborators (sorry, Toby fans, though I do admire his support of gay marriage, which surprises me as much as Tim McGraw did when he told me that he is a registered Democrat). I would have expected them both to have more traditional taste in singers, so they caught me off guard when, in separate interviews, they told me how much they love Björk, who I assumed must have some kind of lesbian appeal. I believe Armatrading actually called her "adorable." Björk, if you're reading this, it's not too late for a Björk/lang/Armatrading trio album.

Speaking of trio albums, Linda Ronstadt, a singer who recorded one with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, spent most of the '80s away from mainstream pop because she found most of it deplorable. The song that reeled her back into the world of pop? Annie Lennox's "Walking on Broken Glass." She also said that the reason Trio 2, the follow up to Trio, her multi-platinum Grammy-nominated 1987 collaboration with Harris and Parton, had been aborted was because "Dolly just didn't make it a priority." Eventually, it was cobbled together and released in 1999, but the magic, the thrill and the platinum were gone.

A more successful '90s meeting of dueling divas was "The Boy Is Mine," the 1998 No. 1 single by Brandy and Monica, who were rumored to have been bitter enemies. Years later, while revealing to me and several of my colleagues at Teen People that her former rival had called her to congratulate her on the birth of her first child in 2005, Monica couldn't resist a little dig. "Having a baby was the only thing she ever did before me."

Gwen Stefani and Pink weren't feuding when I interviewed a pink-haired Stefani around the 2000 release of No Doubt's Return of Saturn, but she worried about the prudence of a new singer using her hair color as her stage name. I didn't say anything, but I wasn't worried about the long-term potential of Pink, who had impressed the rest of the TP staff and me during an impromptu a cappella office performance months before she released her debut album. When Rihanna visited the TP offices in 2006, she revealed that her soon-to-be-No.1 smash "S.O.S." was intended to be a duet with Christina Milian, who thought the song was too pop and stood up Rihanna in the studio. "How rude (and professionally dumb)," we all agreed, but Rihanna's triumphant she-who-laughs-last-laughs-hardest smile made it obvious that she was thrilled not to have to share the spotlight on a surefire hit.

Aguilera: Dressed down!
I love subtle bitchiness (not-so-subtle bitchiness, too, but when it's subtle, it's so much more elegant), and I hate it when singers try too hard to be diplomatic. (Though during one drunken night at B Bar in New York City, it was refreshing to hear Parker Posey, whom I didn't even recognize until she introduced herself about 30 minutes into our conversation, tell me how much she loved working with Tori Spelling in the 1997 film The House of Yes.) Christina Aguilera wasn't thrilled when I arrived at our interview with the new hot-off-the-press 2000 Best & Worst Dressed issue of People magazine, and looking to stir up some trouble, I showed her that Britney Spears had made the best-dressed list -- and guess who was on the worst! After fuming for a minute or two, complaining that People -- and people -- only appreciate the safe and predictable, she actually insisted that she and Spears were friends. At least during my interview with Spears, she was polite without going there.

And Mariah Carey, post-meltdown and right before the release of Charmbracelet in 2002, denied that she had ever dallied with Eminem, and that the Charmbracelet song "Clown" (with the lines "Who's gonna care when the novelty's over/When the star of the show isn't you anymore") wasn't about him. He's so vain, I wanted to warn her, he probably thinks that song is about him.

Now if I could only lure Carly Simon into the hot seat, and get to the bottom of "You're So Vain, her 1972-73 only No. 1 hit, once and for all. Warren or Mick? My money is on the one who moves like Jagger.

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