As the new show celebrating the work of the world’s greatest female vocalists opens in London, Matthew Amer finds out about its stars’ thoughts on music and divas.
New musical extravaganza RESPECT La Diva is a celebration of half a century of groundbreaking female musicians, from Welsh warbler Shirley Bassey to American sensation Beyonce and from the sensually voiced Dusty Springfield to the remarkably ranged Mariah Carey.
RESPECT La Diva stars its own quartet of fabulous females; former Three Degrees singer Sheila Ferguson, Denise Pearson of 80s pop band Five Star, Katy Setterfield, whose Dusty Springfield tribute act won the BBC contest The One And Only, and Zoe Birkett, Pop Idol runner up and now West End regular. It seemed only right to find out a little about the divas they love and their own diva-ish tendencies.
What inspired you to sing?
Sheila Ferguson: My crush on Marvin Gaye. As it happened, he was the top of the bill at my first ever gig at the legendary Apollo Theatre in New York City. We met, the crush left, but the roar of the maddening crowd entered. We remained friends up until his death.
Denise Pearson: I think growing up in a musical household has inspired me and has played a major part in my decision to chose singing as my profession.
Katy Setterfield: My mother used to play Dusty Springfield songs when I was a very small child. I remember hearing that voice and wishing I could sing like her.
Zoe Birkett: I was originally a dancer, but had an accident when I was 14 that unfortunately led me to have a major hip operation. This meant I wouldn’t be able to dance as much as I’d like to, so I took up singing. Turns out I’m a better singer than dancer. I’ve always been a huge fan of Whitney Houston and my family is very musical so music has always been in my blood.
What sets a diva apart from a good female vocalist?
Ferguson: The public decides who they think is a diva, not the artist.
Pearson: A great female vocalist!
Setterfield: A diva lives every word that she sings; the emotion of the song comes from her heart not just her voice.
Birkett: I would say it’s hard to define what sets them apart, but it’s something that they have, a certain presence.
Which diva do you most admire?
Ferguson: I think the word diva is well over-used. I like many female artists and the ones who withstand the test of time are usually the ones the public decide are divas, because they know how to perform for audiences and are not clones.
Pearson: Three actually. Whitney [Houston], Celine [Dion] and Mariah [Carey] all have the most amazing vocal ranges, a classic diva trait…
Setterfield: Dusty Springfield. She had such a difficult life and you hear every bit of pain and emotion in her voice.
Birkett: I love a few divas; Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, but at the minute I absolutely love Beyonce.
If you could only sing one show-stopping number for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Ferguson: Music is a very personal thing and I have been singing since I was 14 years old. So many of the all-time great numbers have at one time or another been in my repertoire. Also as I have so many favourites it would be virtually impossible to name just one.
Pearson: Listen by Beyonce. The lyrics hit home and feel very personal.
Setterfield: The Way We Were. It reminds us all of a better time in our lives, loved ones we have lost along the way. Beautiful memories.
Birkett: It would have to be Christina Aguilera’s Fighter, what a great song that is. Very relevant to my life.
On a diva scale of 1 to 10, how much of a diva do you consider yourself?
Ferguson: I do not consider myself anything other than a good performer. It is up to the public to answer a question of this ilk, not me.
Pearson: Ah now that’s a question for your readers… Come and see RESPECT La Diva then all shall be revealed.
Setterfield: Probably eight.
Birkett: My agent says 11, but I know that’s not true!
If you could make one outrageous demand for your diva rider, what would it be?
Ferguson: A bathtub in my dressing room to soak after a few shows.
Pearson: To have three Oompa loompas, two horses of a different colour and one flying pig escort me to the theatre every night… because I like to be different!
Setterfield: A grand piano in my dressing room. I love to write songs. Or two whippet puppies, I love dogs.
Birkett: Erm… If I could have Gordon Ramsay cook me dinner that would be AMAZING! I’m in love with him!
What is the most diva-ish moment you have ever had?
Ferguson: Telling a young understudy off in front of the entire company!
Pearson: When I made my cat wash my car! Now that was a classic…
Setterfield: Telling a manager of a theatre if they didn’t let my dog into the dressing room there would be no show that night.
Birkett: Hmmmm, I don’t know. You’d have to ask some of the stage crew on the show, as I’m sure I’ll have had some with them! Hehehe.
And when have you felt the least like a diva?
Ferguson: When I look at myself in the mirror first thing in the morning, ugggggggggggggg.
Pearson: When I was last a man, lol. Never.
Setterfield: Falling over in six-inch heels in front of 2,000 people, which then led to my wig coming off revealing an attractive wig cap underneath.
Birkett: I feel like the least of a diva on RESPECT La Diva as I’m actually working with some real divas that I’ve looked up to all my life!