She had the dream, the drive, the gift. Music pulsed in her blood. She is the youngest of 14 children of Adhémar and Thérèse Dion of Charlemagne, Que., 20 km east of Montreal, and at five she belted out Ginette Reno songs from a tabletop in her parents’ piano bar. At 12, in her basement, she recorded a song written by her mother, and the demonstration tape won her an audience with Reno’s mentor, Montreal impresario René Angélil. Soon, under Angélil’s guidance, Céline Dion became a major Quebec star, a wholesome, girl-next-door success with a soaring voice as big as her ambitions. At 18, chafing at her little-girl image, she took a year off to make herself over, emerging as a permed, spike-heeled pop princess ready to invade the English market. That invasion now is in high gear. Says Dion: “Every time someone asks me, ‘Céline, has your dream come true?’ something else happens. I still feel like this is just the beginning.”
Music industry experts say that 1992 was the turning point in Dion’s career. With nine French albums behind her, the 24-year-old singer has now recorded two English albums—celine dion last spring, after Unison in 1990—that carried her voice far beyond Quebec’s borders. U.S. sales of celine dion topped 500,000 last summer, her first gold record in America. The first single from the album, If You Asked Me To, was number 1 on Billboard charts for three weeks; the second, a bluesy gospel number called Love Can Move Mountains, cracked the black American charts. With her dramatic flair and improving English, Dion has also become an American talk-show favourite, appearing for the sixth time on The Tonight Show with host Jay Leno in December. And since the summer, she has toured Spain, Italy, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
But Dion says that her personal highlight of 1992 occurred on March 30, her 24th birthday, and the night of the Academy Awards. Then, with two billion people watching on worldwide television, she and singer Peabo Bryson performed their winning theme song from the hit movie Beauty and the Beast. But it was the backstage parade of celebrities that truly overwhelmed the young woman once known as la p’tite Québécoise. “It’s the biggest television show and it’s very prestigious and the song won and it’s a classic and I was part of it,” Dion gushes. “I congratulate Anthony Hopkins as he passes by me backstage, and then I go onstage and Barbra Streisand is sitting in front watching me. Then, Liza Minnelli goes by and later I’m eating shrimp with Patrick Swayze and I meet Paul Newman at the elevator. It was too much.”
Dion has been criticized for recording English songs that are more calculated, less passionate than her French material. But she has never denied her desire to be an international megastar—and Quebecers by and large now seem to accept that. The singer, who lives with her parents in a Laurentian Mountains house overlooking the Ste-Anne-du-Lac ski resort, has also sidestepped issues that could have torpedoed a politician’s career. The exclusion of the accent on her first name on her latest album cover caused more of a ruckus in English-speaking Canada than in Quebec. “There are so many problems in politics,” says Dion. “You’re almost afraid to say something. I’ll always be a Quebecer-Canadian. I’m from Quebec and every time I go to a country I say that. It’s my roots, my origins and it’s the most important thing to me.”
Dion plans to record her next album in September (releasing some singles in the meantime), and is working on other plans for future projects. But before that, she is preparing a new tour for March. It will be her first as a U.S. headliner—one that she will design and direct herself. “From the beginning to the end—costumes, numbers, lighting—I built everything. I lie awake at night, can’t sleep, putting ideas on paper.” For Céline Dion, still the dreamer, 1993 could be the biggest year yet.
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