Spring 2007

A Diva’s In The Desert For Dinah – And Her Name Is Kristine W

The term diva is used much too frequently today, but in Kristine W’s case, it’s absolutely appropriate. This is a woman who knew what she wanted early in life, and through sheer determination and an abundance of talent, she has achieved many of her goals. She has nine #1 Billboard dance singles and was just nominated at the Winter Music Conference in Miami for Best Dance Artist, alongside Justin Timberlake and Madonna. Not bad company for a girl who never left the confines of her small rural town in Washington state until she was 18.

We spoke about her early years as one of four kids growing up with a single mother, from a poor and very religious Christian family. Making it out on her own, she wound up as a first runner-up contestant in the Miss America pageant by her 18th Birthday. We also discussed her “escape” as she headed to Las Vegas on a scholarship to UNLV, and in record time she became a headliner at one of the most important hotels in town. Along her journey she’s managed to stay true to herself and loyal to her large following of gay fans. We spoke of her battles with a life-threatening disease, her strong will to survive for her two children and her future goals embarking into uncharted territory in the entertainment business.

This week, she appears at Dinah Shore for the second time to wow audiences with her hits plus a new single, “Walk Away,” which was written for Whitney Houston, but somehow landed in her lap courtesy of her producer and close friend, Tony Moran. She’s now talking about expanding her musical horizons with a jazz album, and a twenty-city tour is in the works, as well as broadening her exposure to some mainstream projects that she’s still mulling over. Not enough yet? There’s plenty more. All you have to do is read on and get the facts from this smart, savvy, beautiful and talented woman. Did I leave anything out? Plenty. But you’ll be sure to find out much more when reading one of the most in-depth interviews Kristine W has ever granted.

I understand you recently performed on the RSVP Caribbean Princess Cruise in Fort Lauderdale for 3,000 passengers. How did it go?

Oh my God, it was a blast. I performed on the last night of the cruise, which was a leather party and we donned these outfits and my dancer boys looked really hot and we got to do all these fun things that we normally wouldn’t get to do, but I think we’ll be incorporating it more because the reaction was so great.

What songs did you perform onboard, and what was that experience like?

I performed “Some Lovin’” and a lot of my hits. Our choreographer, Leo Moctezuma, was great. He’s choreographed tours for Christina Aguilera and he’s been in a lot of Madonna’s videos, and he’s just so talented.

Tony Moran produced your next single “Walk Away.” Is it true that it was originally written for Whitney Houston, and if so, how did you obtain it?

Yes! I’m not sure how it all worked out but I think it was one of those times she was in and out trying to get clean and I think Alan [Rich] or Tony pulled the song and it’s one of those songs that’s really vocally demanding. Tony Moran is tough on singers and he doesn’t just let you just go through it, but the result is great. A lot of singers can’t handle those type of vocals but they knew I could, and in my mind, I just want to make the best product possible. Whatever it takes to sell the song.  I always figure if someone is trying to push me they are pushing me to move outside of my comfort zone and I think that’s something that we all need to do. Tony’s out there and loves doing the live thing like I do so we work really well together.

When will the new album be released, and how will it differ from your past efforts?

Well, I’ve kind of been waiting for Tony because we made a commitment with “Walk Away” and not putting anything out until the song did its thing. As far as differing from my past efforts, it’s very fan driven. We got a lot of letters that we’ve saved and we’re listening to the fans so hopefully it will be very pleasing to them.

Will the title of the new album be “The Power Of Music”?

Yes, that’s what I want it to be titled. There’s a song I wrote with Babyface’s production team called “The Whole Nine” which is pretty funky.

How many tracks are on the new CD, and will you be releasing it after “Walk Away” or will you be releasing additional singles first?

The new dance album has twelve new tracks on it. We’re going to release another single in June, we’ll wait for “Walk Away” to do its thing and then release a summer single. We’re not really in a hurry to get the album out. We’re gonna mostly do song placement. I’m in negotiations with Funny Boy Films. Del Shores and I have been talking and I’m more interested in getting the songs placed in different creative entities. They’re doing a lot of movies this year that are really cool and they’re teaming up with different record labels and doing soundtracks to their movies. The storylines that I heard are much more mainstream. They’re gay storylines but they’re more palatable and not over the top. I think they’re really onto something. I mean everybody in the United States has a gay friend or a gay hairdresser and there are so many bad stereotypes out there and so much fear and misconceptions that it’s long overdue that someone does some storylines that speak about how the boys and the girls really are, because they’re just like everybody else.

It’s amazing that we’re still dealing with the ignorance in 2007.

For some reason, it’s still on the street. I’m submerged in straight culture because my kids go to a private Christian school. It’s actually a good thing for me because I see both worlds and I see what needs to happen to build a bridge. It’s going to take straight people not being afraid to be embraced by the gay community and supporting the gay community, not as a bunch of pedophiles and porno guys. The problem that we have is that the media has sensationalized being gay in a negative way. The black people were slaves, the Mexican people are the gardeners, they stereotype everyone. It’s really upsetting to me because my best friends are gay.

With the Presidential campaigns starting so early, the “right” is already riding on the bandwagon like they did in the last election.

I know and it really upset me when that Minister [Ted Haggard] who is married and the way they painted a picture of how he was drawn into the gay world as if he wasn’t out there looking for it long ago. It just makes me so mad that the media feeds this to the public.

The intelligent people see through the façade but it doesn’t help with your average Joe.

Hopefully, there will be people that will come in to balance things out. I heard that “Sordid Lives” is going to become a television show. I think there are talks about it.

Do you have any aspirations for acting?

If something came my way I’d love to do it because I’ve done so much theater but I’m not out there beating the door down. I’ve been around Hollywood enough to know that it’s not necessarily the most talented people to get the job, whether it’s acting, singing or anything else. It’s a lot of politics and people’s girlfriend’s and wives so I wouldn’t want to put myself out there and do any more psychological damage (laughs). I think I’ve been damaged enough by the record industry, I don’t need to throw myself into the movies. I want to survive and exit this world with my marbles (laughing).

Speaking of survival, a few years ago you were battling Leukemia. Did music play a large role in your recovery, and how have you been feeling lately?

Absolutely! And my friends and fans and my family, just all of that positive energy, the power of music is undeniable and it can help you get better, it helps you meet different people, it helps you heal spiritually. There are so many fabulous things about music that brings people together on so many different levels. It brings cultures together. It brings the world together.

How are you feeling now?

I don’t think I’m ever going to be 100% because I’ve had so much chemo and so much radiation for long periods of time, but I go to the gym, I watch every single thing that goes in my mouth. I just have to be super careful about what I do and how I live. My doctors tell me I’m alive because I’m a fighter and I refuse to die, plus I never smoked or did drugs and never abused alcohol, otherwise they would be telling me I have six months with or without chemo. Looking at me physically you’d never know I went through what I did. I’ve been in remission for four years but it’s always scary that it could return. My ordeal has made me much more empathetic to my gay friends that are battling AIDS. I’m constantly on the phone asking them ‘what are you taking for your immune system?’ I never thought I’d be on the phone with all my different boyfriends that are positive talking about taking vitamins. Maybe it happened to me so I could better understand.

A lot of people are still unaware that you placed first runner-up as a Miss America contestant before your career took off. What did you sing to win the category?

I sang “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. I started it out slow and then halfway through I kicked it up and did it uptempo and did a bunch of scat (Singing “One of these morning’s”).  I was Miss Washington. That’s where I’m from.

How long have you been based in Vegas?

I came here when I was eighteen and went to UNLV. I came right of high school. I was Miss Washington when I was eighteen. I was the youngest girl competing in the pageant.

How are your two children, and what have they taught you about your life?

I have a boy and a girl in elementary school and I tell you if I hadn’t have had children, I don’t think I could’ve survived. Many times through my illness, I just thought I don’t want to live. I don’t want to do this. My stomach is burned out, I could hardly breathe, I was in intensive care for two weeks and my children were so young, they were only two and three. I’m such a drama queen, I moved, like in the movie “Beaches” and took the kids to the beach.

You didn’t go as far as singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” down by the shoreline, did you?

Noooo, but many times I thought if I’m gonna die…I mean, my goal was to walk from the condo to the water which was maybe forty feet away and it took me forever to get that far and it was my children that made me want to fight like crazy. I just thought what would their life be without a Mother. They’re so inspiring.

Let’s talk about the upcoming Dinah Shore event. I believe you performed there before. What was the response like, and what’s the difference playing for the girls as opposed to the boys?

I performed there about three years ago. I think the girls are a little bit more reserved until they get a few drinks in them. The boys can come in and just be ready to party! I also think the girls are a bit more critical towards performers. You can’t go in there and be half-assed.

Why do you think you resonate so deeply with a gay audience?

Because I’ve survived a lot of things in my life, my Mom was a single parent with four kids and we were very poor. I come from a small town and I fought so hard to get out of there trying to get a scholarship and did everything I could to pursue my dream. I think like me, the gay community has to overcome such huge obstacles. Being a gay person in this world is very difficult. It’s easy to pretend and get married be miserable your whole life, but to go against the grain and fight for something you believe in and be who you are is not an easy thing.

Was your family supportive?

Not at first but I didn’t even know I was a gay icon. I was playing Vegas at the Hilton and a lot of people took to me so I was a big deal before I even had a hit record being a live performer in Vegas. At first, my records were a big hit in Europe and the pop scene there but in the States, my music was big in the gay scene. It was confusing to them, they asked “Why is your music a hit with gay people in the States?” My family is fine with it now. It took them a little while to get used to it. Now they come out to my concerts and I’ve said to them, “these people aren’t all going to hell.” That’s not easy to do when you’re brought up in a farm town and the Lutheran Church.

Who have been your musical influences?

I was always an Al Jarreau freak. I was always a Donna Summer freak. As a little kid, those two always stood out in my mind.

The last time I interviewed you was about three years ago, and I asked ‘If you could only take one of your songs and put it in a time capsule for future generations to hear, which song would you choose and your answer was…

“Land of the Living.” When anybody gets bummed out or think they can’t make it, that’s a good song. That could get anybody pumped up, right? I made it and they can too.

Does that still apply?

Yes! Every time I sing that song it’s like the first time I ever sang it. The words resonate so deeply. When I originally wrote the lyrics, I was talking about death and I was talking about my shows and how little entertainers are appreciated, while I was watching entertainers in Vegas getting ground up like sausage and how being a performer is such a hard life. If you get a lot of success then you get a lot of money in the bank and you get to call your own shots but if you’re a working musician, it’s a pretty brutal life. You sometimes give your life for very little appreciation and sometimes you end up old and nobody cares they all have your records and the record companies made all the money off of you and you end up living on Social Security. I’ve seen it happen. This is why I’m interested in the business side of it, and someday I’d love to do a label where I could help artists that wouldn’t have to go through the hell that they are going through now just to be heard by the people. That will happen eventually when things are less manic I my life

Finally, what are your upcoming touring plans, and why do you feel gay audiences are the best audiences in the world?

I’m talking to different sponsors about a jazz tour, which would encompass about 20 cities. It would be a U.S. tour with possibly a couple of international dates. That would be to support my “Shaken and Stirred” jazz album. The reason that gay audiences are great is because they know what is good so you have to be pretty fabulous at what you do. But once they embrace you, they’re very loyal and loyalty is the most valuable gift you can give to anyone.

This article first appeared in the BottomLine Magazine in Palm Springs, CA.

© 2007 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.