Sling the word diva around if you will, but in black pop the one woman who really personifies the term is Diana Ross.
While such a mantle can be a campy load to carry, Ross didn't let it descend to that level Saturday night at the Universal Amphitheatre. Yes, there were the de rigueur costume changes, a gospel choir and eight hunky backup dancers. Yes, there was a montage of high-fashion images of Ross that flashed on a screen above the stage throughout the evening. And yes, it was all very Vegasy and slick--but not in a bad way.
It's easy to forgive Ross her excesses when she sings "The Man I Love" the way she did on Saturday. Her rendition was slowed down, jazzy and beautifully intimate. Ross has been performing for more than 30 years, so it's easy to focus on her glitzy image and underestimate how effectively she can deliver a well-written song.
Even when she dipped back into her Supremes repertoire, her treatment of the pop classic "You Can't Hurry Love" had a soulful edge to it. Costume changes aside, even Ross realizes that it's important not only to look good--you've got to sound great to keep the entire package intact.
Some of her most well-received songs this evening were from an upcoming new album on the Motown label. The youthful exuberance and sexy thrust of "Don't Stop" gave her male dancers a chance to really strut their stuff. But it was "I Thought That We Were Still In Love," a ballad to which Ross brought a very grown-up sense of disillusionment and heartache, that hit home.
There's a slickness to Ross that she remains pretty unrepentant about, but there is some emotional complexity and depth there as well. And when it comes to a brand of glamour that is the standard by which '90s-era divas will be measured, Ross is still the undisputed boss.