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Thursday, October 8, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Unsinkable Celine Dion -- Pop Diva Is On Top Of The World, And Not Even An Iceberg Could Stop Her Now

Seattle Times Staff Critic

------------------------------- Concert preview

Celine Dion and special guest Andre-Philippe Gagnon, 8 p.m. Saturday, KeyArena, Seattle; sold out, 206-628-0888. -------------------------------

In a lifetime of moviegoing, it had never happened before.

At the end of the film, as the credits rolled and rolled, nobody moved. We just sat there.

The movie - you've probably already guessed - was "Titanic," and what kept the theaterful of people in their seats was Celine Dion's breathtaking performance of its love theme, "My Heart Will Go On."

The song, which later won an Oscar, was already a hit and everybody knew it was from the film. But this moviegoer didn't know the song was not in the movie itself - although an instrumental version kept cropping up. So when it finally arrived during the credits, the audience's reaction was a surprise. You didn't have to be a pop-music critic at that moment to know that Celine Dion's already huge career was about to skyrocket.

"My Heart Will Go On" took her to megastar levels. It made the "Titanic" soundtrack and the Dion album on which the song also appears, "Let's Talk About Love," huge hits. Her album has sold nearly 23 million copies worldwide. "Titanic" sold even more, although exact figures are not available.

So don't be surprised when the big finale of her in-the-round concert Saturday at KeyArena is that career-altering smash.

A replica of the Titanic will rise from the stage for the song, which comes during the final encore. By the time Dion finishes singing it, she will be standing at the bow of the ship, a wind-machine blowing her hair, in the now-classic "I'm king of the world" pose.

It's a moment worthy of pop's most dramatic, over-the-top diva, who uses her five-octave range and incredible lung power to make every song she does dramatic and explosive.

The show also includes duets with Barbra Streisand and the Bee Gees, both of whom appear on film, performing songs from the new album. Streisand's and Dion's voice blend nicely on "Tell Him." The Bee Gees song, "Immortality," the latest single and video from the disc, is in their classic style, and Dion's phrasing matches theirs exactly.

In addition to the album and the world tour - which ends in December with a seven-night stand in her native Montreal - Dion's career is in high gear on all fronts.

Two days ago, stores began selling "Divas Live," the soundtrack from a VH1 special starring Dion, Mariah Carey, Shania Twain, Gloria Estefan and Aretha Franklin that was broadcast in April. Dion released a French-language album, "S'il Suffisait D'Aimer," last month.

On Nov. 3, her holiday album, "These Are Special Times," with traditional and new songs, will be released. Many of the same songwriters and producers who contributed to "Let's Talk About Love" are involved. The album features a duet with R. Kelly.

On Dec. 1, her latest home video, "Live in Memphis," will be in stores. Recorded in March 1997, it does not include "My Heart Will Go On," but will no doubt be a big hit anyway.

The video was filmed shortly before Dion's only concert here, held that same month. At a sold-out KeyArena, she performed a 90-minute set highlighted by her last huge smash, "Because You Loved Me, " as well as the song she sang at the opening of the 1996 Summer Olympics before a TV audience of 1 billion, "The Power of the Dream," the Eric Carmen cry-baby classic, "All By Myself," and, from the movie "Sleepless in Seattle," "When I Fall in Love."

Audience reaction at that show bordered on ecstatic, but this time the adoration level is sure to be even greater. When the final crescendo fades, there will probably not be a dry eye in the house. Just like "Titanic." ------------------------------- There's something about Celine

With pop divas, eccentricity comes with the territory. But Celine Dion takes the cake. What makes her so special? Here are just some of the interesting facts about her:

-- She claims to have never been alone in her entire life (not counting bathroom visits). She was born into a poor family of 14 children, so this is not hard to believe.

-- She does not speak on some days, in order to preserve her voice. She uses hand signals instead. On the phone, she taps once for yes, twice for no.

-- She touches thumbs with each of the musicians before going onstage. Twice.

-- She dances with the music director, at least once every concert.

-- She signed with manager Rene Angelil at age 12. Fourteen years later, when she was 26 and he was 52, they married. Their marriage ceremony, on Dec. 17, 1994, was held in Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, and broadcast live on Canadian television.

-- She learned English in record time. She began studying the language in 1989, after she conquered the huge French-Canadian music market in her native Montreal. Within two years, she was fluent.

-- She hits herself in the chest while singing. She says it's an automatic reflex. - Patrick MacDonald ------------------------------- The Diva Derby

Aretha Franklin reigns as the pop diva by which all other divas are measured. How do Celine Dion and other pretenders to the throne compare to the Queen of Soul?

DECIBELS (indicated by a glass, shattered, broken, etc.)

Franklin - Glass tipped over; she never overdoes it

Celine Dion - Glass in shards

Whitney Houston - Glass cracked

Mariah Carey - Glass reduced to steaming dust

Diana Ross - Glass has just a chip gone

Shania Twain - Beer mug cracked down the side

Barbra Streisand - Martini or Champagne glass neatly divided in half

DRAMATICS

Franklin - Earthy; she's always believable.

Dion - Wagnerian; incapable of subtlety.

Houston - Pillsbury Dough Boy; all puffed up but mostly hot air.

Carey - Daytime soap opera; the acting shows.

Ross - Force of nature; nothing can stop her.

Twain - Still in the barn; this filly ain't been broke yet.

Streisand - Effortless; can create drama with a mere look.

MATERIAL

Franklin - Her classics will live forever.

Dion - Every song is a finale, and all sound the same.

Houston - Hits and (mostly) misses.

Carey - Will she ever find a song worthy of her gifts?

Ross - Sorry, girlfriend, but you've never topped The Supremes.

Twain - A country star who only sings pop; go figure.

Streisand - Tasteful, to a fault.

PRESENTATION

Franklin - She just sings; that's all she has to do.

Dion - Mannerisms galore and props, too; show business is her life.

Houston - Looks 10, Smile 10, Wardrobe 10; but keeps her distance.

Carey - Sings like an angel, but unaffected, earthy performer.

Ross - I'm great, aren't I?

Twain - Lotsa sass; with looks like that, why not?

Streisand - I will deign to perform for you, you lucky people.

FASHION

Franklin - A disaster; but who cares?

Dion - Slinky, stick figure, but unsexy.

Houston - Just plain wow.

Carey - Fashion? What's that?

Ross - It's all in the hair.

Twain - On her, anything looks good.

Streisand - Designer originals you'll never find on the rack.

THE "PD" FACTOR #

Franklin - Forget the "Nessun Dorma," honey.

Dion - See Fascinating Facts.

Houston - Haven't you read the tabloids?

Carey - Behind that smile, fangs!

Ross - Ain't no words strong enough.

Twain - Not quite there yet; give her time.

Streisand - Show business titan; don't mess with her.

# prima donna

- Patrick MacDonald

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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