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Impaired pairings mar ‘Divas Duets’

Times Staff Writer

The economy isn’t the only once-prosperous American institution experiencing a slump. Divadom is in the doldrums too, at least judging by the sixth-annual edition of VH1’s “Divas” concert. The telecast from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas worked hard to whip up the regal, larger-than-life, over-the-top aura that defines the diva oeuvre, but those efforts were sabotaged by the show’s shortage of charisma and preponderance of wan voices. Can this really be the best lineup of divas they could field?

The first pairing illustrated the talent imbalance that kept the evening from ever finding its feet: a mismatch of the volcanic Beyonce (no more Knowles, apparently) and the bland Jewel on “Proud Mary.”

Beyonce was one of the few performers who was able to really hold the camera, sharpening anticipation for the former Destiny’s Child front woman’s debut solo album, which is due this summer. But her competition was slim during the two-plus hours, ranging from routine (Celine Dion) to wispy (Ashanti) to in-the-wrong-place (the rock of Lisa Marie Presley, abetted by Pat Benatar).

The evening’s major curiosity was the performance by Whitney Houston and her husband Bobby Brown, who was making a rare public appearance before someone other than a judge. Houston isn’t the hottest act in pop anymore, and her voice lacked much of its old purity and power. She and Brown moved busily in separate orbits during their segment, with absolutely no connection.

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Contrast that with the sparks that flew and the affection that flowed from robust veteran Chaka Khan and her contemporary heir Mary J. Blige when they put their formidable voices together. Now that was a marriage made in diva heaven.

The show, which was hosted by Queen Latifah and closed with a tribute to Stevie Wonder, benefited the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, a nonprofit campaign to restore instrumental music programs in public schools.

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‘VH1: Divas Duets’

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Where: VH1

When: Sunday, 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.; Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

Running time: 2 hours plus


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