Man, VH1’s Divas Live series was the $h*! I stayed home for. Not the Grammys, not the Billboard Music Awards, not even the Super Bowl halftime show. Divas Live was the only place where I could see women belt their hearts out to the greatest songs ever recorded in history. (Don’t @ me.)
The last Divas Live performance was only last year, with Mariah Carey, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Vanessa Williams and Teyana Taylor performing holiday hits. The series lost some steam in the later years, which I blame on Kid Rock and Pitbull, but those late-‘90s performances were a live television treasure trove. Celine, Mariah, Aretha, Shania, Cher. Surnames don’t even matter for Divas Live performers. These women command audiences with only one name.
Despite the series’ later-years misses, it was an influential piece of pop culture that took the entitled meaning behind “diva” and turned it into something powerful. Dozens of voices were featured throughout the years, and these ones are our absolute favorites.
1. Kelly Clarkson
I’ll say it. Kelly Clarkson was the only saving grace in 2012’s Divas Live lineup. It’s like the show’s producers typed “teen stuff” into the search bar and grabbed whatever artists showed up first for the rest. This show was such a mess that Clarkson only got one song in the whole setlist, appearing after opener Adam Lambert, who was the host and primary performer (huh?). Oh, and Pitbull was around for a couple of songs. What were they thinking?
2. Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige saved Divas Live the year things got weird and VH1 decided to throw Kid Rock, Marc Anthony and the Backstreet Boys into an Aretha Franklin tribute show. Guys. If there is ever a tribute anything for me, please make sure Kid Rock is three states away. The only redeeming factor in that whole lineup was Mary J. Blige, who appeared in previous Divas Live lineups as a guest artist. Her smooth, R&B spin on Aretha Franklin’s soul made her the only headliner from that year’s lineup that matters.
3. Debbie Harry
Full disclosure: Debbie Harry made the list because I worship her. The Blondie frontwoman defined “cool” before Gwen Stefani could walk and is still creating music and performing well into her 70s. She has always been on fire, whether hanging out with David Bowie and Andy Warhol, acting in early ‘80s indies like Videodrome or releasing new music, like this year’s Pollinator. So, OF COURSE, she killed her solo version of “Rapture,” coming onstage in a gold lame coat and sunglasses and handing over the song’s rap verse to Eve.
4. Dixie Chicks
REMEMBER WHEN THEY SANG “LANDSLIDE” WITH STEVIE NICKS? REMEMBER?? No other Stevie Nicks collaboration can touch that. NOT EVEN when Stevie appeared in the “Bootylicious” video. The performance was the cherry on top of the Dixie Chicks’ already perfect cover. Then they went on to do an Elvis tribute later in the show. They also performed their originals, “Wide Open Spaces” and “Long Time Gone,” but obviously, “Landslide” is the real reason they’re firmly cemented on this list.
No diva list would be complete without Beyoncé, so thank GOD she showed up in 2003 for the Divas Live duets show. Previously, she was a guest performer with Destiny’s Child in 2000, but we all know Queen B is not second-tier talent. AND. Even though the show was all about duets, Divas Live knew they couldn’t get away with allowing Beyoncé to share the spotlight, so they did solo breakouts throughout, with the Queen performing the title track off Dangerously In Love in a magnificent black and white gown that looked like some conchas and angel wings decided to go into fashion design together.
6. Faith Hill
Country’s sweetheart started out as a guest performer and went straight to headliner the following year. That was around the time she pulled a Shania and went from country to mainstream with hits like “This Kiss” and “Breathe.” Alongside Mariah Carey and Donna Summer, Faith Hill paid tribute to Diana Ross, performing a handful of the icon’s discography while sprinkling in a solo “Breathe” performance.
7. Gloria Estefan
It’s easy to forget all Gloria Estefan has given us. She singlehandedly (I may be reaching here, but it’s fine) brought back disco in the ‘90s with her “Turn the Beat Around” cover. This is only after she cemented herself as a pop queen with “Conga,” “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” and “Get On Your Feet.” She then gifted us an entire megamix during her Divas Live performance, which included the aforementioned songs, plus “1-2-3” and “Dr. Beat.” And now I’ll be listening to these songs for the next three days.
8. Shania Twain
Before Taylor Swift came along, Shania Twain was the reigning country crossover queen. Her crossover album Come On Over sold 40 million albums worldwide and there was no way in hell would there be a divas performance without “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” in the lineup. Shania – who is the best-selling female country artist in history – joined Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan and Aretha Franklin for Divas Live’s first show, where she performed the hits that made her a breakout pop star.
9. Tina Turner
Nobody works a stage like Tina Turner. No-bo-deeeeeeee. Tina not only opened up 1999’s Divas Live but merged her powers with Elton John and Cher to perform “Proud Mary” only a third of the way into the broadcast. How can you get any bigger than that trio? (You have Whitney Houston close the show, that’s how.) Tina – legs, hair, voice and all – starts a slow intro to “Proud Mary,” with her guest stars showing up six minutes into the performance. In total, Tina’s “Proud Mary” stage time lasted in incredible eight minutes.
10. Diana Ross
Diana Ross was honored by Mariah Carey, Donna Summer and Faith Hill at her 2000 tribute show. The first half of the show saw original-content performances from the headlining divas, but part two was all Diana. She performed her greatest hits – mostly solo, but with appearances by The Supremes and Mariah Carey. All the divas joined her onstage for the iconic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” before she closed out the night with “I Will Survive.”
11. Aretha Franklin
Another diva that gets her own tribute show, except this one was a little different from Diana Ross’s. As mentioned previously, the producers thought it would be a wild and crazy idea to let Kid Rock contaminate an entire series built on female empowerment and accomplishments. If Aretha Franklin is OK with Kid Rock singing “Rock Steady” with her, I guess I have to be too. But I’m not going to like it. Nope. Instead, I’ll rewatch Aretha and Mary J. Blige’s duet “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”
12. Donna Summer
Disco’s queen was one of the four headliners for the Diana Ross tribute show. Not to be overshadowed, Donna Summer performed three solo pieces – including Supremes classic “Reflections” and her own “Bad Girls” and “Love Is the Healer” – before joining Ross and the rest of the divas for “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Cher joined the Divas Live lineup during a crucial time. I am talking about a time where you could not escape “Believe.” A beautiful time. If you don’t remember, imagine gas prices below a dollar, Surge in every grocery store, teenage Britney Spears and Dawson’s Creek. Incredible. Although not part of the inaugural lineup (a tragedy), Cher headlined the second installment, performing “If I Could Turn Back Time” and “Believe” in the most amazing pair of leather pants.
14. Whitney Houston
Whitney closed out 1999’s Divas Live with “I’m Every Woman,” a fitting song for a lineup that included Cher, Tina Turner, and Brandy. Her headlining gig came only a few months after she released My Love Is Your Love, which followed an eight-year hiatus. Whitney was back, she was fierce and now I’m looking up “red leather pantsuit” on the internet because girl wore one of those with authority during her “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay” performance.
15. Mariah Carey
Where do I even begin? The queen. The reason the word “diva” exists. Mariah appeared in the inaugural Divas Live and went on to headline two more times thereafter. She had two of her own songs at the top of the first Divas Live, plus a duet with Aretha Franklin with the biggest, most beautiful hair that stage has ever seen. And that’s just her first appearance. Mariah came back a second time for the Diana Ross tribute and then in 2016 for the holiday concert because Mariah Carey is actually Santa Claus and we’ve been lied to this entire time.
16. Celine Dion
Celine knows she is a legend, but she performs like she could be dethroned at any second. She flails her body! She kicks! She flirts with the audience! She flirts with her dancers! She sings with POWER! Is she the reason this series was created? Maybe! She sure as hell was the driving force behind the series’ success. Riding high on her “My Heart Will Go On” wave, Celine helped launch Divas Live into a multi-part series that included CDs and DVDs of the performances.