For more than 50 years, Patti LaBelle, the pride of Southwest Philadelphia, has owned center stage, effortlessly blowing her audiences away with vocal highs in "New Attitude" and "Over the Rainbow" and sultry, soul-stirring lows in "Little Girls" and "You Are My Friend."
But starting Monday at 8 p.m., the soul-music icon will embark on a new endeavor that, she admits, has her shaking in her stilettos. LaBelle will compete in the 20th season of ABC's hit show Dancing With the Stars.
Her partner, Artem Chigvintsev, might have a hard time keeping up with LaBelle. At the tender age of 70, the singer shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to Dancing With the Stars, she is frequently on tour, and recently had an acting stint on FX's American Horror Story. She also will appear on the season finale March 18 of Fox's wildly popular hit Empire.
First off, I've seen the promos for "Dancing With the Stars," and you have the legs of a 30-year-old.
Thank you so much, honey. I'm trying to work it.
So the big day is almost here.
Yes, it's going to be fabulous on Monday night. I finally said "Yes" to something I have said "No" to for years. I realized that I'm 70 years young and said, "Why not say yes?"
I'm excited, but I'm nervous because I'm not a dancer. When I'm on stage in concert, I freelance and just go with the music and get into the spirit of the song. I'm not counting, like, "One-two-three-four, turn." I'm not that girl.
But I'm going to do my best, because I'm not afraid of failure. I consider myself a young 70. There is nothing that can stop me except me, myself, and I. I don't plan on being in my own way ever again. I was at one time, but no more.
How are rehearsals coming along for your dancing debut?
My partner, Artem - I can't pronounce his last name - is awesome. He has been traveling with me on the road because I had two concerts and we rehearse in Philadelphia. We've been rehearsing for more than a week, and right now he's nice, but I think he's about to put his foot in my face.
He says, "Patti, darling, don't hold right there, do it this way." He's about to turn up soon and get me. I am getting progressively better because, instead of taking steps out because of my nervous factor, we are adding to the routine.
So tell me about your dancing background. Would you get up and dance in your living room when "Soul Train" came on?
I loved watching that show because I love to watch people dance, but I would do just that: watch. I never danced along with that TV show. My dad was a dancer. I remember him bouncing around, but I just watched. But I'm working hard now.
How are you holding up physically as you prepare for the first episode?
It's been stressful on my body, especially the right ball of my foot. With the fox trot, you dance on the balls of your feet. This right toe is giving me fever, but I've been getting a lot of massages to keep myself right and to deal with the pain. But it's all good. No pain, no gain.
So what are you and Artem going to open with?
We're going to fox-trot to "Lady Marmalade."
Who are you most looking forward to seeing dance?
Nobody. Is that cold?
I'm looking forward to seeing my partner, Artem, and just thinking about Patti and Artem. If I look at the other dancers, I may get more nervous, and I have to concentrate on myself. If it was a singing competition, I would be watching everybody, but this is dancing.
I'm sure you are getting a lot of support from your friends.
Yes, honey. Gladys Knight called me and said she was so happy that I finally said yes to the show. She told me they are going to work me to death with rehearsals and if I needed to know anything to just call her.
Some websites are already calling you a fan favorite.
I think that's a wonderful compliment. I just hope I can dance into all of their lives. It's not my profession, but I'm going to do it like it is.