Céline Dion in conversation

… on the highest note she ever hit, her insecurities, and what she thinks of Quebec’s charter of values


Parisa / Splash News / Corbis

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than six years since Céline Dion recorded her last English-language album. The birth of her twins in 2010, the much-publicized purchase—and listing—of her $72.5-million water-park-themed home on Jupiter Island, Fla., and her profitable residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas (recently extended until 2019) had the Québécois singer snapping up headlines with no new musical material to speak of. For Loved Me Back To Life, her 25th disc, the five-time Grammy winner recorded songs written by Sia Furler, Daniel Merriweather and Ne-Yo—three young artists whose tracks were brought in to help facilitate Dion’s latest musical makeover. Although the songs are unlike any of the high-profile power ballads Dion is known for, her five-octave range is still very much front and centre. The biggest change is in her voice, which is now a raspier, grittier instrument, and more nuanced than her delivery on Oscar-winning hits such as Beauty and the Beast and My Heart Will Go On.

Q: One of your new tracks, a cover called At Seventeen, is known for being a feminist anthem. What prompted you to record it?

A: It filled so many unexplained, emotional holes from my childhood—especially during my school years. I don’t want to say I have scars, but when I sing it [live], it is for many people like me, who have suffered so much because they felt awkward and unwanted when they were younger.

Q: When in 1975, she had to go to TV talk shows to promote the track because many radio stations wouldn’t play it. Has much changed since then?

A: It’s a tough world. The kids today have a lot of pressure on them. I’m thankful that I’m not starting my career now. The demands on women are too much. When you look at models, they all have to be a certain height, weight and shape. This thinking influences a generation to the point where they get themselves sick because they feel like they have to be in a mould. I have to watch everything that my kids are seeing! I hope it will start to change but I would never start a career today because you have to have it all: you have to know how to sing, know how to dance and you have to look perfect. It’s impossible.

Q: In the past, you said you grew up feeling unattractive. When did all that insecurity begin to fade?

A: When I was 12 years old and I finally got to the stage. Then I was on TV and my career took off and that made me realize that everything is not about looking good. [Before fame], I never wanted to leave my parents’ house. Kids are very cruel with other kids. If you aren’t seen as cool or the A+ student or you don’t have the cool look—with the hair, the jeans and shoes of the moment—you don’t fit in. I was very skinny. I had teeth problems. I didn’t feel secure. I didn’t feel like I fit in.

Q: Your name is attached to an in-the-works Maria Callas biopic that you have been wanting to star in. Is this going to happen?

A: There are some very serious people not letting go of the project but I’m not letting go, too! I remember reading a book about her and seeing her photos and thinking that I looked like her. She was beautiful in her own way and tried to make herself as pretty as she could. She had long, hard features.

Q: Callas is seen as such a tragic figure. How have you been able to relate to her story?

A: I want to give her the love she should have had. From day one, her mom told her that she would never have any success and she’d do nothing worthwhile because she was, in her mom’s words, “fat and ugly.” This is the opposite way that I grew up. The fact that [Aristotle] Onassis used her for her fame and left her for [Jackie Kennedy] and then even made fun of her afterward—it broke my heart.

Q: There are many new artists who do not want to look like they are labouring for their audiences, for fear of looking like “try-hards.” Are you a champion of the try-hard?

A: Yes. For over 30 years I’ve been in this industry [because] I’ve been trying too hard and I don’t think there are many people around that are able to have this kind of longevity. To have a hit is one thing. To be disciplined enough to commit to a career is another. It is beyond talent. You can’t pretend not to care.

Q: One of your new songs, Incredible—produced by Ne-Yo—is straight up R & B. Do you feel he pushed you into a sound that you hadn’t explored before?

A: Nobody pushed me. All the young [producers] on this album—I call them kids because of their age—proposed things to me, and we met halfway. Because of people like [Ne-Yo], I do feel like I am having a second wind in my career. I can’t record The Power of Love or My Heart Will Go On again and again. I’m not Britney Spears but I do need to freshen up my sound—which I think we’ve done.

Q: Do you still carry a list of people with whom you want to sing a duet?

A: I have an unending list but at the top of it is still Annie Lennox. We’ll wait and see.

Q: Phil Spector once told Entertainment Weekly that he owned many of the recordings he did with you during your Falling Into You sessions. He said he was going to release them one day.

A: It’s true. He does have the songs. He bought them. He owns them. I would prefer to [re-sing] them the way they should be sung because they were [recorded] in a very difficult environment. I don’t think the recordings as they are right now do justice to the songs, my voice, his work or the musicians who were there the night we recorded them. It was a hard session. I can’t believe you brought that up. I feel like I’m 105 years old because it feels so long ago.

Q: For the new disc, you recorded an updated version of Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed with him. Did you learn any new vocal tricks?

A: We recorded separately in different studios but we had many conversations on the phone about the direction. Music is a different world, you can’t learn anything—it is more of a secret language that you get or you don’t. When you talk to jazz people, they live their music, it’s not decodable. Stevie has a particular way of singing and playing piano. [Dion sings lyrics to Master Blaster: “Everyone’s feeling pretty / It’s hotter than July!”] His way is so unique that you can’t learn a thing. It’s just an amazing privilege to listen.

Q: What is the hardest and highest note you’ve ever hit?

A: That would be in All By Myself—it’s still hard to sing today. I was in Montreal and David [Foster] was in Malibu and called me to ask me if I could [attempt] the song in my register so I sang it to him over the phone and he was happy. Not too long after this, I get to Malibu to record the song and he tells me he’s rearranged it three notes higher. He said, and I’ll never forget it, “Don’t worry if you can’t sing it, Whitney Houston is in the studio next door.” That gave me the pipes that I needed.

Q: Speaking of Whitney Houston, in 2008, it was reported that you were scheduled to record a duet with her. Did it ever happen?

A: No. But I was on YouTube and someone posted a video montage that used both of our voices. I actually took a minute and thought to myself, “Have I been in the industry so long that I forgot about singing a duet with Whitney?” I actually felt bad because I grew up listening to her. She was my idol.

Q: The most famous duet you’ve ever done is with Barbra Streisand. She recently said, “As you get older, people expect you to fail.” Does this ring true at all?

A: The people who come to see me, they love me beyond my songs and don’t want me to fail. When I make a mistake on stage, they are like “Oh my God, are you okay?”—they are always on my side and they care for me. When I lost my dad and I cried on stage and told them, “I’m not going to give you guys a good show”—they never said I did a bad job. The industry is different—you can’t please everyone, so I don’t try to.

Q: Lucien Bouchard once called you Quebec’s greatest ambassador. With that in mind, Amnesty International just declared Quebec’s controversial charter of values as a limit on fundamental rights that further stigmatizes vulnerable women. Do you agree with Amnesty?

A: It’s a very delicate question to answer because I’ll hurt some people and please others but you have to have an opinion. For me, it’s not about the veil—it’s beyond that. I’m not against what people wear but if you go to the hospital, and you are in Quebec and we have embraced you and opened our country for you to live in a better world, you have to adapt to our rules. If the doctor is a boy or a girl, you’re gonna see the doctor that [is] sent to [treat] you. You can’t just say, “My religion doesn’t permit me to see a woman or a male doctor.” That’s the problem for me. If I’m going to see a doctor and he is gay, I’m not going to have a problem with that. It should not be an issue.

Q: Yet you’ve stood up for women’s causes throughout the years.

A: Of course! It’s just that these women who practise the things they believe in have to adapt to our country. They have to not change our laws. Because you have a lot of Anglican or veiled women in a school—you can’t just take off the [Catholic] cross from the walls, or take down Christmas trees. If I go live in their country and have to be veiled, I will.


Céline Dion in conversation

  1. Celine is a principled woman. I support Quebec’s Charter of Values, we should have this implemented Canada-wide.

    • Given that the proposed charter will have a detrimental impact of many women, as outlined by many women’s groups themselves as well as other groups, on what basis do you support the charter?

      • I am against the Charter, but I am wondering, MC, how is the Muslim Brotherhood doing with women’s rights? given it is a patriarchal tool of domination.

  2. Quebec is not a country.

    • I think she meant the whole Canada. She just gave an example of Quebec since she comes from there.

    • She was asked a Quebec-specific question.

    • Quebec is not yet independent country. But when you ask to anyone who lived in Quebec for a while, especially if they used to live somewhere else in Canada, and then decided to get back to Quebec, You will find that a vast majority on Quebec’s population place themselves as a Quebecer way before being Canadian.

      People in the rest of Canada are good people… But it is a fact that they don’t share the same values compared to Quebec population. Regardless of the language, Fresh of course is a big influence in those point-of-view’s gaps, but regardless of this fact, it remains that most of Quebec population does not relate to the rest of Canada, and even less relate to the British royal family…

      • Tout à fait
        Très bon commentaire.

      • Most Quebec population? Really, sorry I beg to differ to a degree. I’m from Quebec and if I were to agree it would be due to the low population of anglos. I agree that a lot of pure laine do no relate to the British Royal family..heck they’ve got their own queen now..lol
        I’ve only ever considered myself a Canadian, which is why I left. I couldn’t stand supporting the government, by that I mean paying taxes. Taxes which are not used with some intelligence. It is true Quebec does have the highest level of drop outs, guess it speaks for itself. I can say that the shape quebec is in hasn’t been created by non pure laine.

        • I agree with Wendy. Having lived in Quebec, I can say if you cannot speak French fluently forget about getting a job or service. A great many of the french Quebecers are very rude and fascists towards non french origin persons. Taxes are the highest with little service for english speaking people. Montreal airport has all Quebecois with racist overtones. French speaking hospital staff are very rude towards non French and wish others would fall off.
          It was very good decision to leave Quebec. I wish the French Quebecers well but it is not for me. As such my advice to minorities leave as soon you can otherwise you will be in the ghetto with Crystal Nicht to follow in future as things deteriorate or Quebec separates.

          • Well I would agree that not all French Quebecers are ignorant or fascists. Some of my good friends are french and it is the extremists which give Quebec a negative rating. Unfortunately sitting the fence and expecting that things are going to get better has done nothing but encouraged the extremists agenda. I went to a couple of the Critiq meetings which are fighting for equal rights of all. Last meeting I went to only 300 people showed up, so what can you do. I say it’ll be too late to whine when you’re rights are gone, and your paying high taxes. I choose to leave as I believe staying and paying taxes is supporting them. I was paying towards the discrimination of non “pure laine”I saw both of my parents treated like shxx in 2 different hospitals because they were speaking English. You probably don’t recall but I do, when the situation was the reverse “My mother couldn’t die in her own language” was the news report. Well neither could both of my parents. But that seems to be fine with the PQ and the racists, it’s different when it’s them. Right. My parents were born there, worked all their lives in Quebec. Now that I am gone, I do hope Quebec separates. If the rest of Canada is so bad, then leave as we are told. Be careful what you wish for you may just get it. If I was in the government, and could get the ball rolling for Quebec to leave I would. I would give non pur laine 3 years to leave. After the 3 year period, visiting Canada would require a passport. Oh and if anyone wishes to immigrate to Canada, well get in line with the rest of the 300k of immigrants which are glad to come to Canada. Just because you are from Quebec does not grant you free access.

    • Certainly not one that can pay its bills with their own money.

    • It is certainly a nation,whether or not we become a sovereign state. Think Scotland or Wales, Catalonia or Euskadi (the Basque country). The latter two straddle Spain and France. Not to mention the Indigenous nations.

  3. If she really believes Catholics have or cannot do any harm if allowed unchecked powers of authority then Celine should explain the Catholic priests’ abuse of children who are now being compensated by tax payers who had nothing to do with Catholicism or immigrated much later to Quebec. I suppose by “embracing you” she means immigrants should come to Quebec, work like the slaves and pay taxes to support the old stock of fat Quebecers to hold cushy jobs and pass bills to deny the immigrants human rights. Celine stick to singing and makin millions of dollars.

    • Look, she’s a singer who has never been provided any kind of education, and she was asked a political question, which she answered to the best of her ability. The fact you disagree with her is beside the point. She only answered the question.

      • Check your facts, she has been awarded a prize in education a few years back,

        • Thank you, Jo — all I can think that you are referring to is the honourary doctorate she was awarded from Laval U — but you know, an honourary doctorate is given to people who did not complete the educational requirements but rather have had spectacularly successful and influential careers. As a girl, I am sure I have read she dropped out of high school — and you know, she has been a performer since age 12, so not a lot of time for educational pursuits.

      • She is completely misinformed on the subject if she believes that “veils” are involved in the controversy because niqabs (veils) have not been allowed in Quebec public buildings for a couple of years. Celine perhaps should have said that she didn’t know enough about the issue to answer the question intelligently. Does she really believe nurses in the ER are wearing niqabs?

        • She may indeed be misinformed; far be it from me to agree or disagree with a Quebeckers on Quebec. I see that thousands have shown up to support that crazy charter this weekend. Canadians right across the board need to learn that all regions of Canada are not at all the same — which is probably why you always disagree with me — perhaps it’s because we see the country differently because we come from different regions? After all, we are similar age, we both live in and work in the west, are both women, have both raised children. I honestly think this is why our country is so divided on so many issues — we don’t seem to understand that we are NOT some big homogenous group. As for nurses in niqabs — I haven’t got a freaking clue what she thinks. My point was she’s an uneducated person with uneducated views, that is all. But if the majority of Quebeckers happen to share those views …

          • My belief that Celine is thinking of nurses wearing niqabs is related to her comment, “it’s not about the veil…it’s beyond that.” She then goes onto to talk about refusing to see doctors of a certain gender. She doesn’t understand that there will be no veil because Quebec has already outlawed the veil in government buildings. She like many others seems to believe this charter is about government employees covering their faces vs. what it is really about which is government employees covering their hair or using traditional methods to restrict their long hair in the case of the turban which Sikh men fashion out of a long piece of clean cloth, which they bind around their long hair to hold it in. I wonder if “the majority of Quebecers who share this view” even know what they are supporting or if they are as misinformed as Celine.

          • She met her husband when she was 12, and was immediately immersed in the music business….she apparently learned English but I doubt she has much education by the sound of it.

            I don’t understand why people have such little knowledge about Canada either….so she isn’t any different that way.

          • It’s like expecting Britney Spears to have trenchant views on the Iraq war or Obamacare. They’ve been supporting whole families since they were little girls — and they were both from poor, uneducated families. It’s weird the interviewer asked about that.

          • And yet if either of them had volunteered an opinion…people would be jumping on them….’oh what would THEY know’? Weird.

          • Why discount her point of view? She was born and raised in Quebec. Discussing views should happen more often. With everyone. Not the select few. Glad this was asked.

          • I did not discount her view at all. Her view is more valid than mine on the subject. And no, if it’s going to attract people to attack a singer, and the singer is in no way known for activism at all, I don’t think they should be asked.

          • I don’t agree. This is best interview I’ve ever read with her. Wish more would be like this one.

          • The majority of Quebeckers once thought that Jews were the instrument of the devil and drank the blood of Christians.

            All hail ethnic heritage!

          • The majority of Canadians once thought that Quebeckers were the instrument of the devil and drank the blood of English Canadians.

            Funny how that works.

          • Is that you, Louis??
            Give us ONE documented example of an English-Canadian (never mind “The Majority”!!) who wrote that French Quebeckers were “the instrument of the devil and drank English blood.”

          • first show your good will by showing evidence supporting the statement “The majority of Quebeckers once thought that Jews were the instrument of the devil and drank the blood of Christians”. :-P

          • Seriously, well said. Get out much Fab? Make this stuff up as you go along? I’ve never heard anyone ever say this and I’m from Quebec.

        • Believe me, if you’re in need and I mean really in need you wouldn’t care if the person was wearing a clown suit. As long as someone is seeing to your needs. And seriously, blah blah blah from Celine “Oh whoa is me” I see that side of her Quebec heritage hasn’t disappeared. Poor little rich girl. Give me a break. I would say she had much of better up bringing than a lot of people. And no, she didn’t answer the question. You call that type of a response skating around the subject.

      • I think that is clear, as all her responses about music were very perceptive. Her comments on the charter (Anglicans?) were very muddled indeed, simply because she is practically uneducated, and as a child was not exposed to cosmopolitan city life (unlike Angelil, who comes from the part of Montréal where I live, where there have been large Italian and Levantine communities for over 100 years).

  4. Next up: Justin Bieber on Senate reform.

    • He was excellent on the reproductive rights of women a while back. I think if everyone sticks to what they’re good at…

  5. More Maclean’s pro-Anglophone/anti-Quebec bull shit. Nice move choosing an especially unflattering photo of Dion to get your point across.

  6. Interesting opinion expressed by Celine Dion when the country she has chosen to make her home and where she has forged an uber successful career and amassed her fortune is one which never would condone or allow such a charter. And what will all her Jewish friends in Vegas say when she is for a charter that forbids a Jewish physician from wearing the kippah?

    • Quebec still has more rights and freedoms than “the country she has chosen to make her home.” Don’t fool yourself that the U.S. would never condone or allow such a charter. I moved down here over a decade ago and I cannot wait to return to Canada. This is not the Land of the Free by any means. It’s full of intolerance-even more so than Quebec.

  7. For tax reasons Celine is no longer a tax paying resident of Quebec.

    Just too taxing to be Canadian or Quebecois, and she has the money and pull to get INS on her side.

  8. As a resident of Montreal, It is disappointing to see Celine attempt to give her ignorant opinion. While I might agree to some extent some of the ideas of the charter, we need to look at the source of WHOM is putting forth this effort. The PQ are NOT introducing this charter to equalize our rights as Quebecers but instead to isolate and target anyone whom is not “Pur Laine”. If you are not French, White and Catholic you are F*****. Our Economy is tanking, 10 000 jobs lost last month, tourism down 43% and our health care remains in the dumps.
    The last thing we need is Queen Celine giving us her POV. When was the last time she took a city bus where 1/2 the passengers wear a hijab?!
    This charter is clearly racist and politically motivated. Thanks Celine! Your off my radar!

    • Désolé mais vous avez tord.
      Cette charte assure justement l’égalité entre homme et femme et non le contraire. Il faut du courage pour oser présenter ce type de charte.
      Non nous ne sommes pas raciste et ne sommes plus des moutons.
      Désolé de vous décevoir.

      • Je vous soutiens 100%, nous avons les memes problemes en France et le peuple commence enfin a se rebeller.

    • Well said

  9. The PQ’s “Charter of Values” was introduced to gain support from separatists. Pauline Marois has used this as a means to gain support to further alienate Anglo’s and Ethnic’s whom reside here in Quebec! Do not be fooled…. It is NOT a charter which attempts to introduce an idea of “equality”…..Instead, it is a charter meant to isolate, repress and shut out anyone whom is not “Pur Laine”. I am so embarrassed for Quebec….we look like fools.

  10. The Quebec government is one step next to a dictatorship government.
    Skimming over the content, she didn’t even answer the Question, dementia already.

  11. Angélil was born in Montreal, Québec, Canada, of a father of Syrian descent and a Canadian mother of Lebanese origin……..

    And you think that she doesn’t know what she is talking about?

  12. I disagree, it’s about the veil. These women are educated,
    lots of them hold professional jobs, they speak the language, they work hard,
    respect the rules of the work place and the province (To my knowledge Quebec is
    not country). Their problem with Muslim women who wear the veil is
    about a piece of fabric?? This is pushing people to discriminate
    others and Quebec is known for that. First it was the English language and now
    the veil, God knows what they will come up with in the future.

    • You clearly don’t follow what has been going on in Europe. Who is intolerant may I ask for always asking more and more from the society, like being served by a man and not a woman and intolerance against homosexual people in their own religion, yeah we surely are very bad in Quebec for trying to keep our culture and not become like many countries in Europe…they have the right to ask for rights to keep their so called culture but not the Quebecers…

      • A culture of what Sir? a culture that teaches children it’s OK to discriminate others because they are different than you in faith and color? to encourage separatism because their first language is English?

        • Once again, who is intolerant if they keep asking for more, why can’t they just respect the everyday life here like we would do in their country. I will not insult your culture but google hate crimes in Ontario or Ottawa ahead of the average and you’ll see it’s worse than in Quebec, so what does that mean…even in the West, I believe it is worse than Quebec except for Saskatchewan.

  13. Celine gave her personal opinion and should not be argued. We can all have our own opinion and post it to anywhere. And I think her opinion does make sense.

  14. More Maclean’s pro-Anglophone/anti-Quebec bull shit. Nice move choosing an especially unflattering photo of Dion to get your point across.

  15. “If I’m going to see a doctor and he is gay, I’m not going to have a problem with that.” My mother said the same thing. Imagine her shock 1 year later, when he was arrested for pedophilia.

  16. Celine………….just shut your mouth and sing.

  17. The Amerindians not had the choice they be to oblige, to adopt the laws of the colonizers anglo – europeen, Madam dion, Canada is not your country your encetres one fly from Indians

  18. Canada’s muslim don’t want to impose their culture/religion to others, they simply want to have this choice for themselves. If their women want to wear the veil or not go to a man physician it is their problem, it does not diminish other peoples rights what so ever.
    The real issue here is that some people want to impose their own culture/values to minorities under false pretext : liberation of women (against their will), democracy, liberty, other grand ideologies and lets face it, plain racism sometimes. These people simply cannot stand different ways of life …

  19. C’est Canada qui demande des immigrés, le Canada n’a pas mis de reglement religieux pour ces immigrants… Donc, suite a cette politique elle doit s’adapter a cette différence culturelle et religieuse …….

  20. Quebec is always ahead compared to the ROC. It is not a matter of freedom of religion, it is about invasion and cultural clash. I lived in England for 5 years, people there are unable to impose this kinf of chart…politixians are bound by oetro dollars from thw middle east……vertus are lost in financial interest..

  21. She completely side steps the controversial part and states something that 90% of men and 100% of women agree with. In any case to me it sounds like she’s against the “Charte: “I’m not against what people wear…”

  22. uh celine should be fined for writing only in english on her FB page. she sells piles of stuff there….her shows, her music, so the OLF should contact Mark Zuckerberg to have her post in French or take down her FB page! As well as a huge fine from the OLF!!