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By Taras Berezowsky
Even with a wintry mix outside, chatting with Lori Michaels is enough to get anyone thinking warm – even hot – thoughts. Michaels, a modern-day renaissance woman who sings and dances her way across the country with her own show called Me & The Girls, hasn’t yet performed in the Mitten, and when told that it’s raining, sleeting and snowing here simultaneously, she almost changes her mind.
“It’s that nasty out there? Oh, I can’t wait to bring my act to Michigan,” she jokes, probably rolling her eyes in mock regret.
Actually, Michaels’ dramatic side (she’s been unofficially crowned The Dyke Diva) hardly masks her true feelings, as she can’t wait to bring her Girls here for the first time on Dec. 31 at the Royal Oak Music Theatre for a special New Year’s Eve celebration.
“We’ve been playing so many pride festivals, benefits and even national anthem performances, that to bring our show into a place like Royal Oak is great,” she says.
“It’ll be like a cool night at a club with all your best girlfriends.”
The show’s popularity has skyrocketed the past two years, with a great deal of exposure that’s firmly rooted in – yet reaches far beyond – the LGBT community. “We started Me & The Girls to bring a different twist to the lesbian entertainment out there, and really didn’t know what kind of impact it would have,” she admits. “We’ve been really lucky to headline big events. I’ve even done Gameday Live at Giants Stadium.” The Girls kicked off their Live Out Loud Pride Tour last April, ahead of Michaels releasing her full-length debut album, “Living My Life Out Loud,” in July. Also this year, Curve Magazine named Michaels one of its Entertainers of the Year.
When asked to describe a Me & The Girls show, Michaels prolongs the intrigue. “It’s interactive, upbeat – and it’s also sexy,” she lists matter-of-factly, almost downplaying her reputedly sultry stage presence. “The show has many lives, so we’re always trying to add to the performances and the songs.” This much is certain: Michaels performs with a core group of girls, enlists an ensemble to help with choreography, and undertakes a multi-faceted agenda during the course of one concert. There are sure to be sweat-inducing dance numbers, tear-jerking pop ballads, and – no joke – even fitness instruction.
“We sometimes do just the fitness-specific program, but generally we put on your ‘typical concert,’ or, as some people say, atypical, because a lot of people haven’t seen a show like ours in – you know … ever,” she laughs.
But Michaels didn’t set out to be a rock star, or even necessarily perform for a living. In fact, most of her performance work directly supports charitable organizations, among them the Joey Dipaolo AIDS Foundation, where she’s an honorary board member, and her own Reach Out, Inc., which she founded in high school and still serves as president.
“The name came from the song ‘Reach Out,’ written by our music director (and famed producer) Lee Evans, and it really started all of our efforts to bring music and dance into schools, and to help families and their communities.”
Based in Michaels’ home state of New Jersey, Reach Out has become a prolific non-profit, educating kids with music and dance about illegal drugs, drinking, tobacco, violence, prejudice and AIDS. “It’s been a big part of what I’ve done for over 20 years,” she says. “I’m very hands-on. I grew up being very active in my school and community, and to be able to use my music not only for fun, but also to raise awareness, has been a wonderful labor of love. Ultimately, Reach Out has become an umbrella for various programs and projects.”
Jamisin Lee, Michaels’ good friend and longtime featured performer with Me & The Girls, recently retired from the show, fully devoting her time to an umbrella project called A.N.G.E.L. Initiative. Lee started A.N.G.E.L. to raise awareness for suicide prevention, fueled by a very personal reason. “She lost her mom to suicide a couple years ago,” Michaels says. “We’re all very proud of her. She’s an amazing woman.”
Clearly, amazing women are the lifeblood of Me & The Girls: those rare individuals like Michaels and Lee who entertain and educate simultaneously – and seamlessly. So what about the music?
In conversation with Lori Michaels, it takes a bit of work to imagine her onstage, since she comes across very straightforward and focused. But as the opening notes of songs like “Girl Thing” or “Please Let Me Go” begin throbbing, her commanding voice brings the listener into a sonic world reminiscent of Pink, Kylie Minogue, or the Scissor Sisters – but with a style and freedom all her own. “I don’t want to write just one type of song,” she says. “My music tells a story, like a diary.”
Michaels does have an uncanny knack for straddling the stereotypes of both queer and straight music in her songwriting – then promptly breaking them. Perhaps this is why her live shows are so successful. Or perhaps it’s because “The Dyke Diva” is just plain sexy.
“I don’t care if you’re gay or straight,” she sings in “Meet Me at the Partay” (featuring Sasha A. Mess and remixed by Mike Cruz), “it’s time to start this party … don’t make me wait.” Oh, don’t worry, Lori. We won’t.
New Year’s Eve in Style with Lori Michaels
9 p.m. Dec. 31