Maybe Diana Ross has different rules for her appearances at benefits.
No costume changes. No “Lady Sings the Blues” jazz. No encore. No media photographers. But you still have to call her Miss Ross.
At least that was the case Saturday night at the Minneapolis Convention Center at the 32nd annual benefit for the PACER Center, which works with children with disabilities and combats bullying.
Miss Ross was onstage for only 47 minutes. And I thought her performance in August at the Orpheum Theatre was short at 76 minutes. Put it this way: The live auction Saturday helmed by WCCO-TV anchor Frank “I Have an Auctioneer’s Degree” Vascellaro lasted about as long as Ross’ performance. He peddled eight items; she performed 13 numbers — but some of those Supremes hits seem as quick as a tweet from your teenager.
OK, it’s a fundraiser, and it’s impossible to argue with the cause. And it’s impolitic to complain about people who showed up to support the cause — the dinner, the silent auction, the live auction, etc.
But Miss Ross needs her fans to turn her into Diana the diva’s diva. She needs love from her people to totally turn it out as she did in a supremely memorable show last year at the Orpheum with four to-die-for outfits, intimate jazzy vocals, indelible diva turns and one precious moment when she spotted a 7-year-old in the crowd and invited him onstage to dance during “Ease on the Down the Road” from “The Wiz.”
So it became Catch-22 on Saturday.
Miss Ross was in good voice (after sounding brassy on the opening “I’m Coming Out”) but pretty much on autopilot.
Who was going to provide the spark — the Motown queen in her sparkly gold gown (who had been enveloped from chin to floor in a chiffon wrap when she hit the stage) or the PACER supporters in their suits and cocktail dresses?
Maybe, it was a case of, um, you can’t hurry love.
Ross — sorry, Miss Ross — cruised through her set. Four Supremes classics, three covers and six hits from her solo career. During her run through the consecutive Supreme tunes (with two guys and one woman taking the role of “and the Supremes”), perhaps only three people in the crowd of 2,000-plus held up a hand Supremes-style to signal the punchline in “Stop! In the Name of Love.”
After displaying her usual affectations of pushing back her Musafa-like mane and spreading her arms, with bejeweled sleeves dangling, at the end of nearly every song, Miss Ross finally started shaking it a bit during the disco-y “The Boss.” (Sorry, Springsteen, she is the Boss, the kind of performer who will tap the security guard standing at the foot of the stage to tell him to get on his knees so he doesn’t block anyone’s view.)
Then she finally lit it up during “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” a song of inspiration and determination. It’s a love song but it could also be an anthem for the children that the PACER Center serves. The diva was dancing and dialing up her megawatt smile.
Afterward, Miss Ross was panting like she was out of breath. At 70, she’s in enviable shape, so you suspect she was just feigning to set up “I Will Survive.” It isn’t her song — Gloria Gaynor made it into a disco classic — but she’s come to own it. It’s perfect for her — an unstoppably buoyant piece of uplift. And, keeping an eye on her audience, she sang much of it directly to a young adult in a wheelchair who’d found his way to the foot of the stage. But she didn’t stop there. She knows a diva moment when she sees one.
Miss Ross spontaneously made her way into the audience and gave the young man a big hug while she was still singing. Even though she didn’t perform her smash “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” she practiced it. The audience was verklempt.
Even though she didn’t say one word about PACER, Miss Ross’ actions spoke louder than her words.