If it did nothing else, the concert staged to create VH1’s “Divas 2000” served as a testimonial to the power of live television —used for the far-superior 1999 edition of the series. With the safety net of tape delay at the ready, this year’s participants took the “D” word to a new level, engaging in enough set changes and retakes to push the event past the 4½-hour mark — no doubt sending editors into overdrive to glean two hours of usable material.
The program started promisingly enough, thanks to a fiery perf from Mariah Carey. With her high register dulled somewhat by her recent hospitalization, Carey was forced to sing from the gut, which brought a nicely gritty edge to her vocals.
Faith Hill, who followed, gnashed through a scenery-chewing “Love Child” as part of a miniset that confused hysteria with soul — and costume changes with personality.
Donna Summer, however, struck a fine balance between sexiness and sincerity: She stood out as the only performer who didn’t lose momentum between set changes, maintaining the same heat on her own “Bad Girls” as on a cover of “Reflections.”
After mildly diverting cameos by RuPaul (who strutted through — what else? — “I’m Coming Out”) and Destiny’s Child, Ross finally took the stage to thank the assembled throng for their applause. Had she merely left after taking a bow, she would have been ahead of the game.
What followed was an uneven, often baffling perf — punctuated with technical glitches that forced the honored guest to repeat each of her four songs at least twice. While she turned in a stellar reading of “Touch Me in the Morning” the second time around, Ross too often stretched for notes that remained out of reach and rambled through several ad-libbed speeches that prompted much head scratching.
After a lengthy pause, Ross returned to the stage flanked by her newly assembled set of Supremes, who seemed to fire her up for strong, sassy versions of “Itchin’ in My Heart” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” The latter title seemed especially appropriate after another endless delay gave way to a flub-filled duet in which divas Ross and Carey stumbled through “Baby Love” and “Stop in the Name of Love.”
If the filmed version of the concert plays remotely well on VH1 tonight, the phrase “the miracle of television” will take on new meaning.