Arguably the most famous Quebecer of modern times; Céline Dion continues to use her star power to help others less fortunate. You may or may not like her music – but there’s no denying her achievements within her chosen career path. Here’s a look at how her success happened, and what she’s doing with it.

This past spring, the hit television show American Idol marshalled its influence in the entertainment industry and with its fans to produce a telethon-style show called Idol Gives Back. The show was a tremendous success, raising $75 million for children living in Africa and the United States. One of the artists who donated her time, talent and star power was the world’s all-time best selling recording artist – Céline Dion.

Céline performed a duet with Elvis Presley, singing “If I Can Dream”.
Using what could be termed as the magic of technology; a 3 dimensional Elvis hologram was projected onto the stage beside Céline, his performance taken from his 1968 ‘comeback’ television special.

American Idol producers had captured two of the most dynamic and world famous performers on one stage.

Indeed, there are many similarities between the careers of Céline and Elvis, including managers who were totally committed to their artists, world – wide success, fan adulation, and Las Vegas as a home base for extended periods. Both performers became an industry themselves – within the larger entertainment business. However, their most important shared elements are raw vocal talent and radiant charisma. Both Colonel Tom Parker and René Angélil recognized that their respective artists had a talent that was quite literally off the scale.

Céline Dion was receiving international recognition for her singing and song writing (sometimes co-writing with her mother and a brother) when she was still a teenager. At the age of 14, Céline won Top Performer at the 1982 Yamaha World Popular Song Festival in Tokyo, and the Gold Medal for best song with her composition, “Tellement J’ai d’Amour Pour Toi” (I Have So Much Love For You). Who was this girl? Where did she come from?

Céline is the youngest of a large family – 14 children. Adhémar Dion and his wife Thérèse owned a small piano bar in Charlemange, a town 30 miles northeast of Montreal. This was not a ‘get rich quick’ business, and even less so when you had fourteen children to raise. Céline performed with her brothers and sisters at the family bar, gaining confidence in her ability.

She co-wrote “Ce N’était Qu’un Rêve” (It Was Only A Dream”) with her mother and brother Jacques when she was just twelve years old. Another brother Michel, sent a copy of the recording to a music manager whose name he had found on the back of a Ginette Reno album – René Angélil. Michel had to be persistent, finally saying “if you had listened to the demo tape you’d have called back”. Putting the phone down, René listened to the tape – and indeed he did call back within minutes.

Angélil was a veteran of the Quebec music scene, which had (and still does) a very well-developed and healthy star system. He had also been a performer himself, as a member of Les Baronets – a band that sang Beatle songs in French and was managed by the late Ben Kay. While he may not have achieved international success as a musician, Angélil turned out to be a natural businessman. According to Don Tarlton, (Donald K Donald) “René Angélil is one of the most gifted and astute entertainment managers I have ever met or worked with”. No small praise coming from someone who himself is the preferred promoter of The Rolling Stones and Elton John.

Upon hearing Céline’s voice, Angélil knew that he had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; and mortgaged his home to finance the recording of Céline’s first record in 1981. “La Voix du Bon Dieu” became a #1 hit, and Céline Dion was an overnight star in Quebec. After her success in Tokyo, she continued to expand her career, and in 1983 she was the first Canadian artist to receive a gold record in France. Meanwhile, back at home, Céline had won Felix Awards for Best Female Performer and Discovery of the Year.

Her success continued to grow in Europe, Asia and Australia under the guidance of René Angélil. In 1988 she represented Switzerland with “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi” at a contest in Dublin, which she won. All this and still Céline hadn’t sung a note in English… but this was about to change.

Although a major star in Francophone Quebec and internationally in other French-speaking countries, Céline Dion was almost unknown in English Canada and the United States. She realized that her greatest potential was far from realized. After seeing Michael Jackson and being inspired by his performance when she was still just 18, Céline announced to her manager that she wanted to be a mega star like Jackson. Who knew…?

René had supreme confidence in Céline’s talent, but he realized that she would need to a makeover – long before the current popular television shows. In 1989 Céline had a physical makeover; learned English and interviewing skills, and voila – she was ready. While it sounds simple – this took an enormous amount of focus, effort and determination.

It was at this time that René turned to his friend, mentor and former manager: Ben Kay. At the same time, the management group was expanded to include Don Tarlton, Montreal’s most successful rock and popular music impresario. “I became involved with Céline the day she started learning English”, remarked Donald in an interview with The Montrealer. “We all recognized what a tremendous talent she is, and how she relates so honestly to her fans.”

Not shy to reach for the gold ring, the group engaged the services of Canadian producer of near-legendary popular music success – David Foster, who produced Céline’s debut English album Unison in 1990. And…as the saying goes… the hits just kept on coming…and coming…and still more coming!

Ben Kay looking was after the contracts and finding songs, Don Tarlton promoting the concerts and tour dates, and René overseeing Céline’s career.

Soon other entertainment industry executives took notice. Céline was hired by Disney to sing the title song for the animated film, Beauty and the Beast. Now it was Oscar time! The song won an Oscar for Best Song, a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance, and along the way was also a Top 10 hit.

With her career now going strong with both English and French recordings, Céline was also experiencing changes in her personal life. Her relationship with manager René Angélil had evolved from manager to lover. With a 26 year difference in their ages, they were concerned about public perception and acceptance. However, it was now the 90’s and attitudes had changed. The couple was accepted by Céline’s fan base, and they were married in 1994.

Céline continued to record and tour to sold-out audiences. In 1998 she sang the title song for the blockbuster film Titanic. “My Heart Will Go On” became a signature piece for Céline’s live performances. It also won four Grammy Awards. She was asked to perform on The Divas, with Aretha Franklin, Gloria Estefan, Shania Twain, and Mariah Carey. That same year Céline was named Officer of the Order of Canada for Outstanding Contribution to the World of Music, and “Officer of the National Order of Quebec”.

Other honours include: Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, Canada’s Walk of Fame, various Grammy Awards for “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance” and Record of the Year for “My Heart Will Go On”. In 2004 she was honoured at the World Music Awards on becoming the Best-Selling Female Artist in the World. She’s sung a duet with opera great Luciano Pavarotti and performed for The Pope. She has earned the respect of other major stars such as Oprah Winfry because of her down-to-earth manner and caring for children – plus a willingness to use her star power to help children.

By the late 90’s, the couple made the decision that it was time to slow down. René’s diagnosis with throat cancer in 2000 was the catalyst that convinced Céline to retire – at least temporarily. Following René’s successful treatment, Céline gave birth in 2001 to the couple’s son, René-Charles Dion Angélil.

In less than a year, Céline would perform on television for a nation that was stunned by the attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon on September 11, 2001. She sang God Bless America at the benefit concert for the victims and their families. Chuck Taylor of Billboard Magazine summarized the reason for Céline’s enduring success in two sentences: “her performance brings to mind what has made her one of the most celebrated vocalists of our time: the ability to render emotion that shakes the soul. Affecting, meaningful, and filled with grace, this is a musical reflection to share with all of us still searching for ways to cope.”

René Angélil heard this emotion in a 12 year olds voice, Ben Kay heard and felt it, and Don Tarlton felt it. Tens of millions of fans around the world have experienced it. Grey-haired ladies at the Bell Centre are transported back to when they were young girls and in love for the first time. It’s a gift – a gift to be able to move audiences in such a way; and a gift to have an open heart and let your emotions move you.

Céline’s break from performing ended with her agreement to a three year contract with Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and a gruelling schedule of performances 5 nights per week, 200 nights per year. This equals 40 weeks per year, with time still needed for her to record – in both languages. To say that the show is successful is an understatement. After beginning on March 25, 2003, A New Day has sold out almost every performance and her contact was extended until December 15 of this year. She has already booked European tour dates in early 2008.

Céline is a hot commodity for marketers, and has acted as a spokesperson for Air Canada, Chrysler, and has line of make-up and perfume produced by Coty. However, she uses her star power best in her work for charitable organizations. She has worked on behalf of the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation since 1982 (she was 14 then), the World Children’s Day, a global fundraising effort sponsored by McDonald’s, The T.J. Martell Foundation, the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, The Jerry Lewis Telethon, and this year, the St-Justine’s Children’s Hospital capital campaign. And of course the American Idol Gives Back show that opened this article.

As of December 15, Céline Dion will be….ahem…unemployed. But not for long. René, René-Charles and Céline will be moving back to South Florida before she sets out on a European Tour. Is there another child in the future? In a recent interview with Hello Magazine, Céline responded to that question; “I’m 39 – my mother had me when she was 42. So anything’s possible!”