She's back, starring in the biggest extravaganza Las Vegas has ever seen, all built to showcase a new kind of showgirl.
NBC News
updated 12/9/2003 4:01:07 PM ET 2003-12-09T21:01:07

She has a voice so pure and powerful, it took the world by storm. Celine Dion is the biggest-selling female artist in recording history, a down-to-earth pop diva who dropped out of show business three years ago to have a baby. Now she’s back, starring in the biggest, glitziest, over-the-top extravaganza Las Vegas has ever seen, all built to showcase a new kind of showgirl.

Celine Dion says she has everything she ever wished for these days: a spectacular new show at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, her son Rene Charles, the child she tried for five years to conceive, a husband she loves, plenty of time to be a wife and mother, and a three-year contract rumored to be worth close to $100 million.

Dion: “It’s the best that there is right now.”

Her musical and visual extravaganza, staged nightly in a $95 million, 4,000 seat “Coliseum” built just for her, is called “A New Day.” And a new day it is for this superstar. At the age of 35, Celine Dion is totally secure with who she is.

Maria Shriver: “I have never, never seen anybody let me talk to them on camera without their makeup on. That shows great security.”

Dion: “Maybe I shouldn’t have, but growing older, everything goes down, down. But your spirit goes up.”

When she finally sits still for her cosmetic transformation, there is the irresistible fan magazine question.

Shriver: “Now why did you cut off your hair?”

Dion: “There’s a big slope on stage, it makes hair come down. I fly at one point, it gets in the cable a little. I also wanted to have quality time at home with my son. I didn’t want to spend three-and-a-half hours with hair extensions I have been using in the past.”

Las Vegas is a gambling town and the stakes on this “New Day” are high. The question is whether Celine has the star power to fill all those seats — 20,000 fans a week for three years, at ticket prices that range from $87 to $200. She says, maybe a trifle disingenuously, that the dollars don’t even enter her mind.

Dion: “I never felt that way.”

Shriver: “You never think that way?

Dion: “I’m not part of show business. I’ve never been part of the pressure. I’m sorry to say it to my husband, but I think he knows by now, I left the pressure to him. I never wanted to be part of, ‘Are we selling tickets?’ ‘When the album is gonna be out?’”

Her husband, Rene Angelil, has always handled the business and the pressure. After all, he created the legend. He discovered a gawky 12-year-old with heavenly pipes, the youngest of 14 children, and built her into a superstar.

Her first recordings were in the French of her native Quebec. They took her to the top of the charts in Canada and Europe.

In 1990, when she made her first English album, her single, “Where Does My Heart Beat Now,” went gold and soon she was at the top of the pop music world.

In December of 1994, Celine and Rene married in a lavish ceremony befitting pop royalty, and they continued to tour relentlessly, until she dropped out three-and-a-half years ago. She was exhausted and Rene had been battling cancer.

Dion: “We used to sleep in a different bed almost every day, sometimes wondering where are we? Where’s the show tomorrow? Being at the mercy of hotels and the weather issues about traveling and the stress and all that.”

The inspiration for the new show that many have called Cirque du Celine came while she was on her sabbatical from show business.

Dion: “I was very tired and I didn’t have any future plan for myself in show business to be honest with you. And then I saw the show ‘O’ and fell in love with it. I went crazy. I said, ‘If we come back in show business this is what I want.’”

Celine and Rene snagged Franco Dragone, the designer of the Cirque du Soleil’s spectacular, “O.” But a few weeks later Celine became pregnant and when she gave birth her priorities changed.

Dion: “I wasn’t sure any more if I wanted to come back in show business.”

Shriver: “I was talking to your husband about it, and he said, whoa that was way too far gone. She couldn’t have changed her mind at that point.”

So planning for the production continued, but Celine says she now has a whole new outlook on her career.

Shriver: “Are you a very different kind of entertainer? A very different kind of human being because you’ve had a child?

Dion: “Absolutely. I feel like I’m singing better. And I’m sure it has to do with the fact that I took two years off, and I could see things differently. And that I could carry a child and be a mommy, and have such an important role.”

She has incorporated her mommy role into her professional life. Rene Charles is the co-star of her Chrysler commercial.

Dion: I think my main thing is enjoying life with my husband and driving my kid to school, going all golfing together, going to do my groceries, picking up my own tomatoes... I spend the whole day with my son, my husband. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s pretty extraordinary for all of us.”

And she says she sees her new show as her way of inviting her millions of fans to be part of her new family.

Dion: “Now it’s my turn to say, you’ve been so kind, you’ve put me where I am. I appreciate that big time, and I feel strong enough to invite you home right now.”

Some critics were less than effusive after opening night. But Celine says she can laugh about it now.

Dion: “The opening night was not as cruel as the other premieres that I’ve had in my life, because I’ve had time to prepare it.”

They have made changes. Celine says she is filling the stage better now, interacting more fluidly with the dancers. Some songs have been redone. She has new costumes. The video on what is being billed as the world’s largest LED screen sparkles even more.

Dion: “We want that show in three months, in six months from now, maybe the wardrobe will change. Maybe my hair will grow back. Maybe we’ll add more songs.”

Maybe that’s what will keep the fans coming back. For now, “A New Day” is sold out through July. Every night, hundreds line up for stand-by tickets. Her new album is flying out of record stores. And no matter what happens, Celine is guaranteed that big multi-million-dollar paycheck. Vegas watchers are already betting that her show will change the way business is done on the Strip.

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