There Is A Santa Bette Afterall

The Charlotte Observer
Kiana’s heavenly visit with the Divine Miss M
Special Correspondent

One year, Kiana Stewart showed up for Halloween as an Oompa Loompa. Another time, she came as Cruella DeVille.

Kiana likes to sing. Kiana likes to act.

Her inspiration? Bette Midler.

“When we’re watching a movie I say, `Kiki, shhh! I can’t hear Bette Midler,’ ” says her 14-year-old older sister, Eboni. “And she says, `But I know all the words!’ ”

Seven-year-old Kiana does, even though she has Noonan syndrome, a disease that presents a multitude of physical and developmental difficulties. In her case, it has resulted in two heart defects, delayed development and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Kiana has been a Bette Midler fan since she was a tot. At 3, her mother, Tisha Stewart, remembers, her youngest daughter sat completely still, absolutely transfixed by Midler’s “Beach Music.”

“Who’s that?” she asked. “She’s good.”

Over the past four years, Kiana has memorized Bette Midler’s songs, Bette Midler’s roles and Bette Midler’s films. For Christmas each year, she gets pictures of the vivacious singer and actress to add to her collection.

No wonder Kiana dreamed of meeting Bette Midler someday.

Mom on a mission

When Stewart’s boss, Latimer Williams, gave her tickets to the Bette Midler concert in Raleigh last fall, Kiana’s mom went on a mission.”If someone says they are Bette Midler’s fan,” she wrote, “they are sadly mistaken. My daughter Kiana is, without a doubt, her No. 1 fan.”

“I sent that letter to anyone I thought might have met Bette Midler,” Stewart says. She sent e-mails, hard copies and hope.

Shortly before the concert, a mysterious e-mail from a “Miss M” arrived. The e-mail promised to send Stewart and her daughters backstage.

When Stewart arrived at the concert with Eboni and Kiana, she found that her tickets had been upgraded. The family watched the performance about a dozen rows from the stage.

Afterward, an assistant came to find the family and escorted the Stewart women backstage.

After about 15 minutes, tiny Bette Midler appeared in high-heeled shoes and jeans.

“Is that my girl?” she called out.

Kiana bolted into the actress’ arms. “And then,” Stuart says, “Bette Midler said, `I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you.’ ”

Songs and conversation

“She sat down,” Kiana remembers, “and then she lowered me down and put me on her lap.”

The two cuddled on the floor while Stewart, Eboni and Midler’s personal assistant stood nearby, tears in their eyes.

Later, Midler told the Stewarts to head to her dressing room. She would join them there in a few minutes.

“I met her little puppy,” Kiana remembers. “That poodle licked me and kissed me right on my lips!”

A few minutes later, Midler arrived.

“She picked me up,” Kiana remembers, stretching out her arms to demonstrate.

Ready to re-enact the whole scene, she leans back. Her eyelids fluttering, she whispers, “And then I said, `Bette Midler, I think I am about to faint.’ ”

“We have a little drama queen here?” Midler asked.

Over the next hour, there were songs and play and conversation. Midler left the room for a few minutes and came back with two white Care Bears for Kiana and Eboni.

“That was my sister’s day,” Eboni says, “so for her to bring something for me — that was sweet for me.”

`She is real!’

Stewart wrote out the whole story for Kiana’s teachers and the administrators at Concord’s Beverly Hills Elementary School.

Long before the concert, they had gotten together and wondered aloud. Would Bette Midler know what meeting her would mean to Kiana?

When Kiana got off the bus, Assistant Principal Delea Beane was waiting for her.

“What was meeting Bette Midler like?”

“Ms. Beane,” Kiana answered, “she is real! ”

Why is Kiana so in love with Bette Midler?

“They are one and the same,” says Beane. “Little bitty wild woman,” she says, pointing at a picture of Bette Midler. “Little bitty wild woman,” she adds, looking at Kiana.

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