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VH1 Divas Live 2012: Kelly Rowland, Jordin Sparks, Ciara Honor Greats

“To move rhythmically to music, that’s the definition of the word dance, and nobody knows that better than a diva.”  With scintillating bits of dialogue like this, (spoken by presenter Jenna Dewnan-Tatum), it’s a surprise even the presenters managed to stay awake during the 2012 installment of VH1’s Divas Live show, which fell flat due to a little too much dance and a lack of strong vocal performances.

Especially since this year’s installment was billed as a tribute to late icons Whitney Houston and Donna Summer, producers seem to have lost the concept of “diva” entirely. This year’s roster included a few exceptional singers, including Adam Lambert, Kelly Clarkson and Kelly Rowland (I guess),  and some sincere vocal question marks, such as Keri Hilson, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato.

For followers of pop culture, Divas Live used to be the Superbowl, and this year they served us a third sting lineup. Divas Live was a franchise built on vocal talent, with the original 1998 roster consisting of Aretha Franklin, Gloria Estefan, Shaina Twain, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. 1999 featured Cher, Tina Turner and Whitney Houston, the greatest of them all.

Especially since the evening was supposed to honor Houston, Divas Live really should have gotten stronger artists to perform her material with a shred of justice. Jordin Sparks’s “I’m Every Woman” was cute because of their Sparkle connection, but Sparks doesn’t have a huge voice.  Where were Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson and Brandy? All are “young” divas like Sparks, but would have added more weight and power to the vocals.

In a highly confusing move, the one artist in attendance with the vocals to pull off a Whitney Houston song (Kelly Clarkson) only performed her own material, new song “Catch My Breath.”  Clarkson’s performance was stunning and easily the best of the night, taking a very simple pop ballad and turning it into a heart pounding showstopper–the true mark of a diva.

Ciara performed a Michael Jackson dance tribute to “Billie Jean” and a bit of her own song “Got Me Good,” which just seemed out of place given the other acts in the evening. Ditto for Adam Lambert’s nod to Madonna’s “Ray of Light.” Dance music was supposed to be part of the the theme, but the Madonna number came out of nowhere next to all the tributes.

The Donna Summer tribute featured Kelly Rowland, Keri Hilson and Adam Lambert, who performed Summer classics such as “Bad Girls,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” and “Hot Stuff” individually, then joined in for a for a joint version of “Last Dance.” The collaboration was fun, but one of the few offered in the evening.

The climax of Divas Live used to be the group number at the end of the show, where vocalists old and young would have a wail off until “they took the crowd to church,” in the words of Aretha Franklin at the 1998 show.

This year, Pitbull closed out the show with “Don’t Stop the Party.”  A fitting end to a fun, but forgettable salute to some of music’s finest.

Ledisi, Jordin Sparks, Melanie Fiona – Whitney Houston tribute

Kelly Rowland, Adam Lambert, Keri Hilson honors Donna Summer

Ciara honors Michael Jackson

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