World Music Awards 1996 (Television Appearance)

Diana Ross World Music Awards 5

Diana Ross made several notable television appearances in late 1995-early 1996, while promoting her Motown release Take Me HigherThese ranged from non-singing (a lengthy interview on BET’s “Video Soul”) to single-song performances (an energetic performance of the title track on “Late Show With David Letterman) to the biggest mini-concert of them all, her Super Bowl XXX Halftime spectacular.  She also picked up a few televised honors, like gaining induction into the Soul Train Hall Of Fame and winning a Soul Train Heritage Award.  These were all strong showings for the singer; she looked fantastic, sounded great, and seemed to be more energetic and focused on her music than she’d been in years…

…and then there was the World Music Awards.

Diana’s performance on this early 1996 awards show surely ranks among her strangest not just of the period, but of her career.  Broadcast from Monte Carlo, Monaco (under the leadership of Albert II, Prince of Monaco), the World Music Awards were created in 1989 and, according to the official website, “are presented on sales merit and voted by the public on the internet. There is no jury involved and the Awards truly reflect the most popular artists as they are determined by the actual fans who vote and buy the records.”  Superstars like Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson were constant “winners” during the 1990s; Jackson won a record-setting five awards in 1996.

Because that year’s show really belonged to Jackson, it made perfect sense that arguably his greatest inspiration was also honored that night.  Miss Ross received the Legend Award at the ’96 World Music Awards, a citation “created to honour top recording artists who have made outstanding contributions to the Music Industry.”  In his introduction of the award, Prince Albert II commented, “She continues to produce new and exciting material that connects with fans of all ages.  Her music speaks for itself.”  And thus, a perfect opportunity for Diana’s music to do just that, with the artist appearing on stage to perform a medley of hits from her Supremes days to her then-current video release, “I Will Survive,” before being given the trophy.

Diana Ross World Music Awards 7

Performing solo on a stage decorated with a neon sign declaring, “Diana The Legend,” the singer is revealed by a sudden spotlight…and those expecting the familiar mass of curly hair and draped gown are in for a shock.  The fashion icon is instead wearing a short, shaggy blonde wig and casual red pantsuit.  Miss Ross would later explain the look during an interview with David Letterman, saying, “We were sitting there from twelve o’clock to late evening, everybody was getting bored and tired…And so we were playing back there in makeup and wigs, and I put this little blonde wig on, and I don’t know if I could ever live with that again!”  Certainly if anyone’s earned the right to play around with fashion it’s Diana Ross; the pantsuit, but the way, is one she’d been using on her tour as the “encore” look.  However, the Harlow-esque platinum hair sends an immediate message to the audience — this is not your typical “Diana Ross performance” — and it’s definitely not a moment to be taken seriously.

Diana Ross World Music Awards

The medley Diana performs here is, in a word, messy.  It’s basically the same one that she used for her Super Bowl halftime show; the backing track moves from quick snippets of Supremes hits (“Stop! In The Name Of Love,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “Baby Love,” and “You Can’t Hurry Love”) to two big RCA hits (“Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and “Chain Reaction”).  She’s in good voice as she begins, especially on “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” on which she displays some vocal power and wails some nice sustained notes.  That said, she seems pretty unfocused; she constantly plays with the collar of her red jacket, and is often far behind the beat of the music, to the point of totally flubbing the beginning to “You Can’t Hurry Love.”  It happens again during “Why Do Fools…,” the singer again gets lost in the music; she even stops singing for a moment in order to find her place.  She breezes through “Chain Reaction” by relying less on singing and more on posing; the audience doesn’t seem to mind, and a few people even stand in their seats.  Next comes a majorly truncated performance of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” during which the singer walks into the audience and even sits on Michael Jackson’s lap (the singer was sitting in the front row, next to country/pop star Shania Twain).  This is the moment for which the appearance is most remembered; Diana coos “If you need me…call me…” to Jackson, who giggles into his hand like a little boy.  It’s a cute exchange, and a nice reminder of the deep bond shared by the two performers (the clip of Diana in Jackson’s lap would get lots of play in the news coverage following Jackson’s untimely death).  From here, Diana moves through the audience, even allowing her friend and famed choreographer Debbie Allen to sing a line of the song.

Diana Ross World Music Awards 3

Miss Ross ends her performance with “I Will Survive” — she’d recently released a video for the song, and though it was never officially selected as a single, it perhaps became the most recognizable song from Take Me Higher (the diva continues to perform it in concert to this day).  She belts out the song nicely, again displaying some vocal muscle, although she again shows a lack of focus when she accidentally begins singing a verse instead of the song’s finale.  In any case, the audience is on its feet, clapping along and dancing, and seems suitably swept up in the performance of the legend.  Finally, Price Albert joins the singer on stage, handing off the Legend Award, in what becomes the most awkward moment of the entire appearance; Diana giggles and poses while the Prince is speaking, and then jokingly asks “Is it over now? My life?” instead of actually making a speech!  It’s actually hard to watch; it’s so bizarre for Diana, who generally shows a classy reserve when getting an award.  And you have to wonder what the Prince was thinking as Diana wiggled her hips next to him!

In her subsequent appearance on “Late Show With David Letterman” (performing “I Will Survive” and participating in a skit, displaying her rarely acknowledged gift for comedy and willingness to poke fun at herself), Miss Ross seemed to want to forget her appearance on the World Music Awards.  When Letterman brings it up, Diana begins laughing and tries to change the subject, saying “I’d rather talk about the way we were…the last time,” referring to her previous appearance on Letterman’s show.  She finally explains the wig decision (again, ending it with ” I don’t know if I could ever live with that again!”) before quickly moving on — although Letterman manages to roll a quick clip, which he sarcastically proclaims a “magic moment.”  It might not be a magic one, but it’s certainly a memorable moment in a career of memorable television appearances!

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About Paul

Album-by-album, track-by-track, a look at the entire Diana Ross discography...
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21 Responses to World Music Awards 1996 (Television Appearance)

  1. Tony says:

    Oh boy….what a mess! For all of those people who refer to Diana as a silly light weight in the industry, this performance certainly added to that reputation. I was completely embarrassed for her. She acted exactly like a character who do her on MAD T.V or Saturday Night Live. I recall being actually angry with her, that she would blow off such a chance to be poised and gracious at reviving an award.

    I am constantly trying to promote Diana to fiends and family. I encourage them to listen closely to her beautiful voice. In many cases I win a lot of people over as they begin to give her voice a chance to reach them. This show and her performance un did all that. Anyone watching her that night saw an un talented, silly, egotistical performer.

    Her voice was pitchy and hoarse …..she acted as if the whole thing was a joke!
    Those silly poses were hard to look at!!!!! And that voice was just as hard to listen to.
    This was when the “Diana free fall began!!!!!!”

    • Paul says:

      The whole thing seems so unplanned — no band, no background singers, no real “performance” — it’s almost like Diana Ross doing karaoke to her own songs! Not a shining moment at all…

      • Tony says:

        Not becoming of a Diva. Strange that Diana wanted total control of Diva’s 2000 yet was able to go on this show so un prepared etc. On second thought …perhaps this experience made her even more controlling about her future appearances.

  2. ejluther says:

    I kind of like the wig and can’t help but think about how much she used to change her hair back in the day – I also think she somehow looks very much like Janet Jackson to me in it. Of course, the wig is the least of the problems here. As a true fan I must say that after her drinking issues serviced I looked back at several points in Diana’s later career and have to wonder if she’s been, um, “relaxing” too much before coming on and this is one of them. Obviously, this is not the Diana she’d want to show the world.

    Do you have a link to the David Letterman appearance that came after this?

    On a happier note, I’m seeing her in Stamford, CT on 8/17 and can’t wait!

    • Paul says:

      I have to say…I wondered at the time if she’d been “relaxing” before this performance, too. I have the Letterman appearance taped — it’s really a great one — I’ll try to find a way to upload it when I get around to posting about it. She definitely seems embarrassed about her performance here!!

    • Paul says:

      Oh…and I’m JEALOUS! I have to wait until next month before seeing her here in Atlanta. Be sure to post here after the concert and let us know how it is!!!

  3. ejluther says:

    PS: “serviced” should read “surfaced” in the above post…

  4. Lawrence says:

    I went to the Bowl last night. It was really a lot of fun. Sometimes, I find it hard to remember the details in the various concerts – as the set lists tend to blend together. However, in LA, she does often add some nice surprises. For example, the show at the Pantages was amazing – more than 2 1/2 hours with requests (including taking one of mine, from the front row!). The show at the Gibson/Universal when her father died that morning, incredible – some very rare songs added too (including “If We Hold On Together,” “What About Love,” etc.).

    In 2010, there was the entire tribute to MJ – and the show was magical. This was when she first added “It’s Hard for me to Say” – and it was awesome. That’s always been one of my favorite tracks which should have been a single.

    So, last night at the Bowl: Rhonda, Evan, and an acapella band. Rhonda looked really pretty and her voice is strong. She sang originals – and it might be good for her to do some well-known standards too, to engage the crowd. The band was especially impressive. Evan – original songs. Same comment re: his sister’s set list. And why did he keep his sunglasses on the entire time?

    Now, for the main attraction: Diana sounded clearer and stronger than she has in ages. She seemed to be having tons of fun too. She added an extra Supremes song (“Come See About Me”) but she took out “Reflections.” Otherwise, the set list was similar to 2010 – full version of “It’s Hard for me to Say” and “The Look of Love.” Gone are: “It’s My House” and “Reach Out and Touch” (and no more MJ tribute, so “Missing You” and “You Are Not Alone” were also cut. Plus, the Billie Holiday segment was shorter – but she kept “More Today than Yesterday.”

    It was just under 90 minutes for her concert. The finale: “I Will Survive” seemed to go on forever! Horns, full band, video screens, new dresses. But I wish she would do “The Boss” at the end, as the finale – or put “Reach out and Touch” back in the show to close. Still, a very solid and enjoyable concert 🙂

    • Paul says:

      So glad to hear this! What an experience to get three Ross family members in one night. What kind of music did Evan do — contemporary R&B? I imagine Rhonda performed original jazz material — it is interesting that she didn’t perform any standards.

      Glad to hear Diana sounded strong — it seems to me her voice has been very consistent over the last few years — all of her performances that I’ve seen display a seasoned, mature voice that seems quite warm and comfortable (far from the years of variable vocal performances such as the one described in this post). What song would you say was the highlight?

      I look forward to hearing “It’s Hard For Me To Say” — as I haven’t seen her since 2007 and thus haven’t heard the song live.

  5. Lawrence says:

    Hi Paul,
    Sent you a friend request on Facebook. Add me and I’ll tell u all the details!

  6. Tony says:

    I feel jealous !!! (Lol)

    • Lawrence says:

      don’t be! I just didn’t want to bore everyone with all the details – and I also had promised to share a funny story with Paul ages ago, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    • Paul says:

      Tony — are you on Facebook? Send me one, too! I’ll share all of Lawrence’s secrets 🙂

    • Paul says:

      Wow — I love this. Totally relaxed performance, and a great rapport with the audience. She looks great, and I love the image of THE Diana Ross sitting in that ratty old chair 🙂 I guess that black outfit is her “new” version of the encore red pantsuit!

  7. Lawrence says:

    Hi Paul – here is my Facebook: add me? Facebook.com/LawrenceStern

  8. Lawrence says:

    Tony and other true blue Diana fans – send me a friend request on Facebook too!

  9. Pingback: The Oprah Winfrey Show: Diana Ross & Brandy (1999) | THE DIANA ROSS PROJECT

  10. Loukas says:

    Every time I watch this performance on youtube i feel the same embarrasshment for her. The red suit was surely a BAD choice for a night like that, the blonde wig was silly and looked so cheap on her head. Her singing/performance is one of them we all want to forget…and her behaviour next to Prince Albert II untill the end of the show was unacceptable, in fact it was obvious that she couldn’t take control of herself and Prince Albert looked almost shoked and ashamed!! During the last 2 decades, especially during the 90s, Diana had been given many chances to show her talent, class and grace but for some unexplainable reasons (alcohol?? stress?? excessive confidence??) she missed some of those great opportunities.

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