11:55 p.m. Aug. 28
928 W. McNichols Road
Advance: $25/Door: $35
Deborah Cox knows what she wants out of life – and last week, it was Twizzlers. “I could eat a whole bag in one sitting!” the dance diva boasts, addressing the licorice craving she tweeted about just before our interview.
Cox’s own sweet confections, particularly the gay-adopted anthem “Absolutely Not,” carried the ’90s R&B powerhouse’s career through the new millenium, making her a queer mainstay on the club circuit. Now, for the first time in the history of her 15-year run, the singer’s hitting Detroit with a performance (and presumably no ponytail, no Chanel) at 11:55 p.m. Aug. 28 at Menjo’s. Expect a hits medley, dance mixes and a fierce female vocalist who knows that stage is just her pet. She’s holding the leash.
“It’s going to be cool because I really like intimate settings,” the 36-year-old says. “I really like to be amidst the crowd, partying.” With the “kids,” of course.
Laughing, Cox says, “I’m like auntie. I feel like we’re family.”
And before she had one of her own (Cox and her husband, who live in Florida, have three children), Aunt Deb raised us on R&B staples, songs like 1998’s big ballad “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here” that crossed over into dance triumphs, before freeing us with the fierce throw-your-hands-up “Absolutely Not,” released originally on the “Dr. Doolittle 2” soundtrack in 2001. Live, there’s no way Cox can cut that fan favorite – even if she’s performed it more times than you’ve heard it.
“What I love most about that song is just the message of it,” she says. “It’s great that that is a huge hit in the community because I’m always trying to find ways to get a good, positive message out about being confident and being who you are.”
Who Deborah Cox is now hasn’t changed drastically – even if she’s matured as an artist, recording a tribute in 2007 to jazz singer Dinah Washington – but her audience has. She’s not in denial, though, feeling flattered instead of peeved – the reaction of most celebrities when they turn up on gossip blogs – that Perez Hilton made mention of her fanbase fluctuation over the years. Besides her strong European pull, it’s club kids and gays. And more gays.
“I don’t want to go over numbers,” she insists, after noting her 11 No. 1s, “but I understand Perez’s perspective. It’s interesting the way my career has gone, but I feel really blessed and thankful for it because I have so much more range than most artists do. I really pride myself in that. And actually, I’m really surprised and kind of tickled that he even blogged about it.”
Cox, who cut an R&B comeback album “The Promise” two years ago, could certainly bait back those who fell off and landed in Lady Gaga’s lap with oodles of forthcoming projects: a pop-urban album, a Christmas collection, a new remix CD and her return to Broadway in “Josephine” next summer (she first appeared in the Elton John-Tim Rice musical “Aida” in 2004). The title character, Josephine Baker, piqued Cox’s interest in high school, when she read the French singer/dancer’s bio.
Outside of both women’s passion for equality, there’s also Baker’s rise-to-fame Cinderella story: “She felt so strongly about leaving her really poor, decrepit past to go and make herself a huge celebrity in a completely different country. And just with that story, I feel like we relate on many levels, because I had to leave Canada as well to find my way here.”
And here she is, singing like it still matters – and to some, even among the provocative pop-art that puts crazy over crooning, it does.
“That’s going to be what matters to the end of time,” she insists. “There are lots of artists right now who might have great turntable records, and you might hear them played over and over again, but are you going to hear that song five years from now? Not even five years, two years?
“It’s such a changing business that we’re in now. I feel so gracious that I’ve come up in the time that I did because I at least have a foundation, whereas a lot of these artists today aren’t able to build a foundation because everything is moving so quickly.”
She points to indelible divas like Cher, Aretha and Madonna (coincidentally, Madge partied at Menjo’s, where Cox will perform, back in the day), who have withstood the ever-changing tides of stardom and, like Cox, found a dedicated following among the gays. After all these years, Cox still can’t really pinpoint her success within that community.
“I don’t know what it is,” she says. “Maybe musically people have really connected with the songs, and the other thing that I’ve been told is that people really feel touched by my voice. And I think the audience knows that I’m nonjudgmental and I’m really there to cheer and spread the love and the gift that I have. If it can inspire somebody to do something great and positive with their life, then that’s what I’m there for.”
That, and to make you dance.