PHOTOGRAPHY SEBASTIAN FAENA
FASHION CARLYNE CERF DE DUDZEELE
TEXT DEREK BLASBERG
WITH MORE THAN 200 MILLION ALBUMS SOLD WORLDWIDE, ONE OF THE GREATEST AND MOST GLAMOROUS VOCAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME CONTINUES HER REIGN AS AN INTERNATIONAL ICON WITH A HIGH-FLYING VEGAS REVUE. SEE CELINE DION AS YOU'VE NEVER SEEN HER BEFORE
On a Wednesday night in June, Celine Dion’s preconcert meeting room is buzzing with activity. A wood-paneled fortress nestled below the Colosseum—the 4,000-seat theater at Caesar’s Palace built specifically for the icon in 2003— Dion’s lair is filled with a disparate group of super fans: big spenders from the casino, contest winners, and young people suffering terminal illnesses, all united by their love of one of the highest-grossing musicians in history, all waiting their turn to meet with the megastar.
When Dion swans into the room, time stops and all eyes land on the singer. With the patience of a saint and an honest-to-goodness sincerity, she greets each guest individually, one minute high-fiving a casino baller, the next crouched down on one knee, tears in her eyes, telling a young girl with cancer how happy she is to see her. Moments later the star shifts from lighting up the room to igniting the stage. And for a hundred scintillating minutes she performs her best-known ballads, pop hits, and even an Adele medley.
Throughout, she makes adoringly corny jokes, which her dedicated fans thoroughly appreciate. (Can you imagine Madonna building a whole bit around the rhyme “It’s been a pleasure in every measure?”) She moves about the stage like a cross between a ballerina and a drag queen. The whole show revolves around her; the only other participant, besides a 30-piece orchestra, is a hologram of (you guessed it) Celine, which joins her in a duet. For the grand finale, Dion takes flight, her gown flapping in the wind as waterfalls cascade all around her. Seven standing ovations and an encore later, the crowd files out into the sweat-suited, smoky mass of Caesar’s casino, smiles plastered on their faces. Many then flock to the Celine Dion gift shop to buy programs, T-shirts, shot glasses, wine corks, feathered boas, military caps, key chains, clutch bags, and rhinestone-encrusted watches, all emblazoned with the performer’s face and logo.
“I’ve been an open book all my life, and I think that’s why people like me,” Dion says after the show. She is petite, polite, and lets her Québecois accent slip when not using her stage voice. “I’ve been criticized for it, but I’m not forcing myself to be the person that you see.” For this story—her first non-promotional photo shoot in six years—Celine channeled her inner playfulness. “I’m like this in my real life,” she says, smiling. “I was scared a little bit because this was so different for me, but I’m glad I did it. Usually there’s always a reason when I do a photo shoot, there’s not the opportunity to go crazy. With this it was two in the morning and I was still jumping on the trampoline. In the house, in my normal life, we are always playing. It doesn’t seem this way on stage, but I’m playing a lot.”
The over-the-top Vegas revue is an extension of Dion’s life, which is quite traditional when she’s not suspended in midair, a kind of singing unicorn. She revels in the time that she shares with her two-year-old twins, eleven-year-old son, and husband, René Angélil, the man who mortgaged his house to jumpstart the career of a skinny French Canadian teenager with the voice of an angel. (“He has been the only man in my life,” says Dion.)
For the artist, there is no line between Celine onstage and Celine offstage. “For me to tell someone that my husband had cancer, that we were struggling to have kids, or whatever we’ve gone through, talking about my life lets people know the real me.” Dion takes pleasure in involving her fans. “I’ve shared everything with them,” she says, which she believes is the reason they’re so loyal. “They come for the whole package. I don’t think they just come for the songs.”
She is a passionate, honest, and open performer whose public face reflects who she really is, which as she attests is something uncommon in show business. Think about Whitney Houston, whose polished exterior in front of the cameras belied a more tragic reality. When Houston comes up in conversation, Dion looks sullen. “I’ve always been scared of the industry. Why? Because I think it’s a place where anything is possible. It’s a ‘yes’ place. Especially if you have success,” she says, adding that her big family has provided a network that keeps her out of trouble. “And then you think that you have family and friends, true friends. But then sometimes the love of a family is not strong enough to overcome.” She mentions Michael Jackson, whose music appears in the show, but Houston’s fate seems to have affected her more. “I was just in shock when Whitney’s life had been taken because of drugs. It’s a big loss for all of us.”
The performer on her radar now is Adele. “I think her whole image is good,” she says. “Very sophisticated for her age: the nails, the dresses, the hair, the size, and her talents as a songwriter and a singer. She’s the total package. The way that she is will definitely help the new generation of girls accept themselves.” The Adele medley in her concert is a new addition. “I wish I could sing the whole album!” she jokes.
Dion’s drive is incomparable. It’s like she was born to do her job. “I was brought into this world to do this, no doubt,” she asserts. When I compare her to Michael Phelps, the record-breaking Olympic swimmer whose physique seems to have been genetically designed to excel in the water, she cheers “I agree!” before raising her hand for an enthusiastic high five. “I really never had time to dream about my life,” she confesses. “I was five and my brothers and sisters were dressing me up on the kitchen table and making me sing Janis Joplin songs, and I didn’t even know what I was saying.” Her favorite story about her early days was when she made one of her first TV appearances, in a handmade dress, to sing a song written by her mom. “We couldn’t afford new shoes, so my Mom painted my red patent leather shoes white. The paint started to crack by the end.”
Well, Dion can afford new shoes now. Lots of them. (Her concert includes seven costume changes, all couture dresses that she personally commissioned from Armani, Versace, Elie Saab, and Balmain.) She’s made hundreds of millions of dollars in Vegas, toured the world, and has double-platinum records hanging on her wall and five Grammys sitting on her mantle. Yet with all that she’s achieved, it’s motherhood that has brought her the most satisfaction. “I thought I had a life before, but until I was a mom, I had no idea. Why would I want a hit? Why would I want to win awards? There is nothing I can hope and wish for my career: I can just hope to be blessed as a mother for the rest of my life the way I am now. That’s the only nomination I want.”
And she’s serious. Asked what she would like her legacy to be, she doesn’t pick a record or soundtrack. “Motherhood,” she says. “Without a doubt. I did not lose myself to try to realize a dream. Everyone thinks that now I’ve climbed this ladder and I’m at the top of the top of the top. I really see the opposite. When I was five and nine and twelve, I was on the top of the ladder and I was looking down. My head was in the clouds. In time I came down the ladder. I’m a mother now. I’m more grounded now than ever before.” And with that she gives me a close, warm hug, the kind one gets from a lifelong friend, then gracefully departs to remove her makeup and return to her brood at home, where the star is simply Mom.
PHOTOGRAPHY SEBASTIAN FAENA FASHION CARLYNE CERF DE DUDZEELE
Makeup Charlotte Tilbury (Art Partner)Hair Oribe for Oribe Hair Care (Oribe Agency)
Manicure Jessica Peterson
Tailor Gladys Salvat
Lighting Designer Christopher Bisagni
Digital technician Lucie Hugary
Photo assistants Miguel Mori and Jose Arizmendi
Stylist assistants Kate Grella and Alexander Lai
Makeup assistants Ninni Nummela and Kristen Arnett
Hair assistant Judy Erickson
Production Helena Martel
Local Production Presscott McDonald and Constanza Camargo (MINY producers)
Shot on location at Celine Dion’s home in Hobe Sound, Florida
Video Alexa Karolinski
Location EQ Splashlight Miami and ROOT [EQ]Special thanks Kim Jakwerth,
Sylvie Beauregard, René Angélil,
Patrick Angélil, Brett Hyde, Normand Leblanc,
Anna DeMartino, Zhane Richer (Dion’s personal hairstylist)