Wed January 21, 2004 08:38 PM ET
By Tamara Conniff
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Bette Midler considered withdrawing herself from this year’s Grammy competition because her tribute album “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook” is nominated for best traditional pop vocal album against Clooney’s live album “The Last Concert.”
For Midler, who is not only a fan of Clooney’s but also was her friend, there is no contest. “Why would you give (an award) to a tribute when you have the original?” she asks.
Midler talked it over with Barry Manilow, who collaborated with her on the album and, upon his suggestion, decided that if she does win, she will give the award to Clooney’s family. “In her entire career, Rosemary never won a Grammy,” says Midler, whose three career Grammys include the 1974 trophy for best new artist. “I would want her family to have it.”
Clooney died June 29, 2002, after a long battle with lung cancer.
The two Clooney albums will face tough competition from Tony Bennett and k.d. lang’s “A Wonderful World,” Rod Stewart’s “As Time Goes By … The Great American Songbook: Volume II” and Barbra Streisand’s “The Movie Album.” All the nominees in the category represent a renewed interest in standard songs geared to a 40-plus record-buying demographic. Stewart’s release has already sold more than 1.6 million copies, and Midler’s tribute debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard 200 albums chart on about 71,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, making it the biggest opening week of her career.
Manilow approached Midler with the project after having a dream in which Midler sang Clooney’s songs against a 1950s backdrop. No one was more shocked than Midler to be reunited with Manilow, given the pair’s historic disagreements while working together in the early 1970s. “I didn’t expect him to go back into the studio again with me,” Midler says. “When he called, I was shocked and happy. The album was a great labor of love. We really wanted to honor her.”
This year is shaping up to be a stellar one for Midler. Her Kiss My Brass tour, her first in four years, is likely to gross $50 million by the end of its four-month run in March, organizers say.
“Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook” was released under a one-album deal with Columbia. Midler says that, for the moment, she’s not thinking of her next album but trying to stay in the moment and take things “a day at a time” and focus on the tour.
Kiss My Brass features Midler backed by a horn section for the first time as well as an LED screen displaying short films made specifically for the tour. She says the show is filled with “laughs and tears” and takes the audience from “Wind Beneath My Wings” to songs from her 1979 Janis Joplin-inspired film “The Rose.”
Midler was late coming to the rehearsal process because of her upcoming film “The Stepford Wives.” While there was, reportedly, ample arguing on the set of the film, Midler says she had a great time working with the ensemble cast, which includes Nicole Kidman, and she considers director Frank Oz “a genius.”
After 40 years in showbiz and a reputation for being a perfectionist, Midler says she’s not a diva. “No, I’m divine.”