NEW YORK (Reuters) - She has received four Grammys, four Golden Globes, three Emmys, and a Tony Award, and even after selling more than 30 million records, singer Bette Midler is still going strong.
For over 40 years, Midler has delighted audiences with her bawdy live performances, and on December 31, Midler will be ringing in the New Year on cable TV channel HBO with her special, “The Showgirl Must Go On,” which is the live stage show she has been performing in recent years at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
The special was taped in front of a packed house at Caesars. Midler, known as “The Divine Miss M,” dons elaborate costumes and sings some of her best-known hits including “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with her back-up singers, The Harlettes, and a 13-piece band.
Reuters spoke to Midler about the TV special, why being environmentally green is common sense and her love of books.
Q: How did you get in such great shape for the show?
A: “A year before we even started rehearsals, I started doing my warm-ups, getting on the treadmill again and lifting weights. It’s fascinating to get on stage and run for an hour and a half, wringing wet at the end. And I loved every minute of it.”
Q: You’ve had such a long and successful career. What do you think is the key to your success?
A: “I don’t do everything that comes my way and I tend to do things in spurts. I’ll be really busy and then just collapse, take a break for a year or two and then come roaring back. I’m not sure if that’s how you achieve longevity, but I tend to sift through things and make sure they are things I really want to do.”
Q: You did over 200 performances of your Las Vegas show. How do you keep a song fresh that’s done night after night?
A: It’s not so easy, but the crowds are different every night and every crowd becomes a beast of its own — this huge monster that has to be wrangled and corralled. And you have to stay in tune with them. There’s an ebb and flow between the crowd and the entertainer that really keeps you on your toes, and this changes with every performance. I think that’s what keeps a song fresh.
Q: Are you working on any new projects?
A: No, this is one of the down times. Just looking around to see what’s out there. It’s a different world now, with the Internet, iTunes, YouTube, Twitter — all this stuff which is so different from what I do and I really don’t know where I fit in it. I feel if you can entertain a group of people live, you’re really going to be okay, and I’ve always been able to do that. But I’m curious to see where I fit in in this new world, so I’m exploring my options.
Q: What’s on your iPod?
A: I just love Teddy Pendergrass. I’ve always been a big fan. Also, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, “The Sound of Philadelphia” and Harry Nielson, “A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night,” which is one of the most beautiful records ever made. And I listen to The Stones.
Q: You’ve been a pioneer in the now popular green movement, founding the nonprofit New York Restoration Project (www.nyrp.org). Why are you so passionate about it?
A: I feel our city has the right to be a beautiful, clean and green city. When I came back to New York City from California in 1995, I felt the city wasn’t living up to its potential. So I started the New York Restoration Project with my own funds, surrounded myself with very good people and staff and we’ve been going strong for 15 years. We’ve been very lucky. We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of support from New Yorkers of all stripes, all colors and all ages.
Of all the things I’ve done, I have to say I’m proudest of the fact that we’ve raised awareness of people that live in the city. Mostly what I am doing is common sense. All green thought is based on common sense. If you want to survive then you have to make sure that the planet in which you live is healthy.
Q: If you weren’t an actor, singer you’d be...
A: I think would probably own a bookstore. I really love books. They’ve been my friends my whole life. To be surrounded by wonderful books is a real treat every day.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte