ABC’s Dancing with the Stars has always included celebrities balancing careers with learning to waltz, cha-cha, etc. Arguably, however, Michael Bolton will take on the toughest feat in the show’s history. He will crisscross the globe on a 115 show concert tour while learning a different dance each week for ABC’s s high profile competition.
Given that Bolton has a Christmas album debuting in October and another studio album in the works, people might wonder if this is the right time for him to be part of the cast of one of TV’s most popular shows.
Bolton says he might never get another chance because he has other projects lined up for the future. These include the shows Chicago and Phantom. As busy as his career is currently keeping him, Michael believes he can dance his way into the semifinal round of DWTS, putting him within reach of the mirrored ball trophy.
Bolton’s worked with a wide range of recording artists from the legendary Barbra Streisand to younger stars of today like Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Ne-Yo. Because of this, he has unique insight into the music business. That and, of course, his own spectacular career.
Speaking of Lady Gaga, with whom he worked on a song titled Murder My Heart months before the release of her album, Bolton mentions that he’s heard her sing outside of a recording studio – without the benefit of technological tweaking – and is convinced she’s the real deal. More than anything he appreciates Gaga’s dedication, as well as her vision for the future of her career.
At sixteen years of age, Michael Bolton began his career at Epic. From that point, it took 18 years for him to have the first hit of his career. This, almost two decade period of staying on task to succeed, helped forge him into serious person. He describes that portion of his life as being out in the desert waiting for a breakthrough hit.
Because of this, Michael became focused on every aspect of his career. Yet for all his seriousness, he says he’s a man with a sense of humor. Certainly, in speaking with him, it is clear that he is very personable.
Between dancing, singing, touring and album promoting, Bolton – currently single – states his personal life is on hold, at least for the coming months. With everything on his plate, he won’t have to find things to occupy his time as he seeks to dance his way into America’s heart.
Listen to the Michael Bolton interview
Chris Yandek: Off the announcements of Dancing with the Stars, I never thought this individual would do the show, but here he is – veteran musician Michael Bolton, many top hits within the music industry. Thank you for joining me today. How you doing man?
Michael Bolton: “I’m great. Thanks very much.”
MB: “Thank you. You never thought I’d do the show huh? Why’s that?”
CY: Because when you think of the names that do Dancing with the Stars every year, you know you think of certain people and I’m just thinking Michael Bolton is a guy who’s had a music career for so many decades and is probably doing numerous projects and you just think certain people would never do reality TV. So the question is, why did you do this? Did you have to be convinced?
ML: “Well, no I didn’t have to be convinced. I certainly had a lot of people trying to convince me. I got invited by the producers who went through my managers and my managers were probably about 80 percent of the team thought I should do the show and thought it would be great and maybe 20 percent were on the fence about it. But my schedule is 115 shows in 2010 and as you were saying, I’m probably doing projects. I am. I’m always doing two albums. I’ve got a Christmas album coming out in late October. I have another studio album coming out in May. I’m always writing and producing as I go and this year instead of doing 75 shows, we’re doing 115 shows.
So the question really is why am I doing it now? And I honestly don’t know that I’ll ever get another chance. I’m looking at two musicals Chicago and Phantom that I’ve been invited to come and star in and I want to move into that world. I’ve written a musical and I’m developing one that’s already been a film. So that’s another universe that I intend to explore fully and enjoy fully. And there’s not a better time than now even though I’m going to be flying back and forth from shows all around the country and then eventually in Europe and back in order to do this show and the people have been phenomenal. The producers have been phenomenal with me about some flexibility cause of camera blocking.
I’m gonna have to do a little extra work on certain days to make up for any times that I can’t be there cause I’m flying in from the East Coast and they’ve just been great to work with, but I’m gonna integrate this into my show. I’m gonna integrate more movement. I don’t use choreograph movement in my show. I’ve tried, but it always distracts me too much from my singing and people don’t come to my shows to see me dance. They come to hear the hits. They come to hear the songs. They come to hear my voice. And that’s my primary, that is my absolute priority and that’s what I take care of. So it’s gonna be quite an expansion for me in a lot of ways.”
CY: Yeah. Well, you’ve answered a few of my questions so I’ll go down to the next one. There have been a lot of people that have done this show in the past from all walks of life. Do you have anyone in mind who you would like to seek the advice of before doing this show?
MB: “Well, you know, I know John O’Hurley. John O’Hurley is a good friend of mine.”
CY: Yeah. He’s phenomenal.
MB: “And he’s great. He’s great at everything he does. He’s another guy who he’s, every time I think I’m busy I speak to him and get his schedule and he’s doing, hosting a television show and flying back to do Spamalot and then heading East and doing Chicago where he is now in New York City and he had the greatest experience doing that show and he said you’re just gonna have so much fun and you’re going to be in the shape of your life. I take my health and physical shape seriously because again it all serves singing. It all serves the kind of schedule that I have, which is pretty intense and I work the late shift.
I’m kind of kicking into another mode at night and second wind comes at midnight. So you know if I can even use those hours to stretch and work on my routine even while my partner is out of the picture. It could be in my hotel room somewhere in Cleveland or Atlanta, doesn’t really matter. It’s just if you put in the hours, I think then you’ve reaped the rewards and it’s that way with everything to me. This is such a challenge.”
CY: Yeah. Definitely. So my question is do you consider yourself a quick learner and how much dancing experience do you have?
MB: “Well, I have little to no dancing experience. I move on stage. I tap my feet to the downbeats, the two and the four. You know I have, all of my experiences is music. So you know I was thinking how hard can it be? I learned Italian to sing with Pavarotti and Domingo and Carreras and I learned opera. I had to study that and that I had a lot more time to get ready for, but not the first couple of performances and I’ve been told that you know whatever I really focused on – the Italian, I’ve been told by Italians so I’m taking it to be accurate, but that it’s solid Italian and so I think that if I put my mind and my time, my focus to it, I can do it justice.
But there’s not a lot of time to get ready for this. I think one of the main things that I think propels you on this show is not learning the steps, but making them feel natural and look like you’re feeling the dance, not following the steps cause I think that’s what everybody looks like at the beginning. Like they’re just trying to do the steps, do them correct, the form and have that be acceptable to the judges. When in reality what really resonates with people is when you look like you’re feeling what you’re doing and when they feel that from you from watching you or from listening to you. They feel something and I think that’s what ultimately resonates. But you’ve seen a lot. You’ve been doing the show since the beginning. I know Evander.”
CY: I interviewed Evander [Holyfield]. I interviewed John after that show. I was the first to interview R&B sensation
Mya. And the advice I gave to her I’m gonna give to you as the weeks go on.
MB: “Yes. Please.”
CY: You try to get a little better every week. It’s about progression.
MB: “Right. Agreed.”
CY: You learn something. You learn Italian slowly, but steadily as you were talking about. So what are your realistic predictions for yourself? And then I want to ask you a few things about your music career obviously.
MB: “Well, realistic predictions or projections, for me, if I can make it to the semifinals, I can win this. And so those are two ifs. I think the quarterfinals is far from shabby for anybody who’s not a dancer, especially not a choreograph dancer.”
MB: “And then if you throw in the other 50 to 60 shows coming up on top of it, I’ll be patting myself on the back if I can get to the quarterfinals. I’m kind of aiming for the semifinals because I know if I put in that much work and get that far I’m gonna, you know, I think I’m all in already right now, but I have a sense of what I’m gonna go for.”
CY: Michael, I wish you the best through this whole process and I’d definitely like to say to you, as someone who recently worked with Lady Gaga on the song Murder My Heart, I wonder what you can tell the general public about her personally given the fact she doesn’t show much of her real self from her performances and acts?
MB: “Well, you know, what she does show is that she works really hard. She has, Gaga has a phenomenal work ethic. I met her before. When we wrote Murder My Heart, it was before her album came out. So she was known in the industry as a songwriter, but hadn’t established herself yet. The record was about two, three months away from release when we wrote. But what I saw in the studio is basically, exactly what I expected. This kind of visionary art, artistic, focused woman who reminded me of a kind of young contemporary Madonna who was already planning on what her videos would look like, planning on what the stage was gonna look like, but who was singing and working on songs with me.
She was working on something specific with me and singing right in front of me and singing her butt off, right in front of me. So I was thinking, ok, this is the real deal and we’re not in the studio messing around with the mechanics and the gadgets we can use in the studio to make somebody sound better. She was singing live right in front of me, perfectly in tune, perfect control of her variations. So I said, ‘Ok. I got a real artist here.’ You don’t know what’s going to happen when a record comes out, but there was a good buzz going on her and then we joked around, we hit it off right away. Apparently she was a big fan of mine from like her childhood.
She was young when I worked with her and so she knew a lot of my variations and knew my vocal range. She had an idea for the song and I just saw a tremendously focused artist about to lift off and it was exciting for me. It was inspiring for me cause you don’t know what a lot of these artists are made of who are coming up these days that television created and launched overnight.
You don’t know if they’ve got the goods that it really takes to maintain a career you know over 20, 30 years. Anybody who’s an artist, an inspiring artist, they don’t want to have a hit and disappear or a two year lifespan. They want the kind of career you’re having if you’ve been around for decades and decades. And I want the kind of career Tony Bennett is having at 83 touring the world and I want to keep my High C. I want my full voice. So a certain kind of discipline there.”
CY: I got three more [questions] I definitely want to get through to you.
MB: “I am a big Gaga fan so.”
CY: Oh, well, that’s interesting.
MB: “You hit a soft spot there.”
CY: You talk about 20-30 years, a career 20-30 years. One person I want to specifically ask you about, you penned songs for tons of musical acts, but Barbra Joan Streisand, any stories that you’d like to share maybe people haven’t heard when you wrote songs for her?
MB: “Well, there is you know, there’s a difference if you ever hear a great sounding instrument you know and or you hear a great sounding violin and somebody plays this part on it and then they open up this locked case and they take out the Stradivarius and they play the same exact part on it, but it sounds better. It sounds richer. That’s Streisand’s voice. Barbra’s tone and resonance is like a Stradivarius to me. And even though I was born into a family and she was my mother’s music, when I became an artist, I understood her range. I understood her dynamics and I respected her you know ultimately as one of the greatest voices in musical history and when I heard she was cutting one of my songs, I was, you know, just doing backflips.
I was so excited about it and so honored by it and then I met her and I sat down with her at a friend’s wedding and spent hours talking to her about music and the music business and just getting to know her and she’s a one off. Just an amazing, amazingly focused and that’s again, not trying to go back to Gaga, but it’s any new artist, inspiring artist. You look at the lifespan of some of these careers that artists, very few, but that are quite up on this level like Streisand, you don’t see someone who’s kind of in and out of their careers. You see someone extremely focused, extremely hands on in each project.
A friend of mine produced the song she did We’re Not Making Love Anymore and they asked me if I wanted to come in and do the vocals with her and I said, ‘I had a lot of faith’. It was Walter Afanasieff who’s one of the most successful producers in the business, but I said, ‘No. Walter knows exactly what he’s doing with this song as honored as I’d be to be in the studio, I love my relationship with Barbra just as it is and if she’s going to record music of mine, I want that to keep going and you know I can’t wait to hear the record.’ They sent it to me and she was phenomenal. That’s one realm, you know. You know I was not equally as excited, but excited in a different way to have Kanye West and Jay Z do one of my songs. You know, they’re all, it’s not like well, it has to be the greatest singer in pop history.
Each different realm, each different area has something else that feeds you and makes you feel like this is what music is about. You express yourself through it and if it’s for someone else that finds a great home and they do a great job with it and you’re proud of it. Laura Branigan did the first hit I ever wrote for another artist was How Am I Supposed To Live Without You in 1983 and she delivered a really heartfelt performance because she really related to that song. She really wanted that song and Streisand steps up the microphone and makes whatever it is, she makes it her own or she won’t cut it, but she cuts what she wants you know.”
CY: That’s phenomenal.
MB: “Just great high points.”
CY: You definitely have a great way of looking at the music world and I would say for the most part that you’re a guy who just keeps up with the times and is willing to accept that new artists come along and I’m not sure that a majority of artists are like that. You think you’re from an era and you think oh, it’s changed and it’s horrible and this and that. You’re just truly phenomenal. Wish you the best of luck on Dancing with the Stars.
MB: “Well, thank you.”
CY: I’m gonna combine two questions here because we only have so much time here. First off, what should we know about you that we don’t?
MB: “A lot of people don’t know my sense of humor and I keep getting, I just get a lot of this like, I just, one of the biggest probably factors in this yes vote for my management and people around me saying, ‘You gotta do this. People need to see you as you really are you know and they don’t understand what hanging out with you is like and when they shot the b-roll and they do the behind the scenes and the rehearsals and all that. You’re just gonna be your funny self. So just do that.’
And I have been having a lot of fun doing that, but I think people maybe because the ballads were so big, I had a lot of hits, but when you have a record like How Am I Supposed To Live Without You or When A Man Loves A Woman or two or three of the other ballads that were played every nine seconds on any radio station, people kind of look at you as a serious kind of artist and a serious person. And I think I’ve always been intensely focused on my career cause it took so long.
You know I had a record deal when I was 16 with Epic, but I didn’t have my first hit till I was 34. So 18 years out in the desert will make you pretty serious about your career when you finally start having success. And I think that would lead when I was doing interviews as ok, this guy’s really serious. He’s very serious.
But the fans who follow pretty much everything know that I’m kind of a wise guy and I’m always trying to find out what’s funny or I’m quickly coming to a conclusion of funny. What is funny about this moment? And already at the rehearsals and I can’t tell you who my partner is, you know that, but we’ve been just kind of laughing our asses off at rehearsal and as tense as it can be about learning a step, it’s just so alien to my body. Keeping time with your right foot is easy, singing in Italian is easy, dancing, that’s tough.”
CY: Not easy, not easy. Good luck Michael. This was just a phenomenal interview. This has gotta be one of my top 25 favorite interviews of a 1000 of all time.
MB: “Well, hey, out of 1000 I’m honored to be up there and I appreciate your time.”
CY: Is Michael happy where he is personally in his life today? I think your fans would want to know that.
MB: “Well, you know, that question is probably the most complicated one of all the questions you’ve asked me because one, I’m single. So there’s a certain amount of, there’s a certain kind of vacuum for that area cause there’s a part of me that really loves to be connected and that’s what a relationship does for me that it’s just not there right now and what is there is fortunately more shows than I think I’ve ever done in a year doing what I love to do, which is sing and that’s what I’d love to do since I was 13 or 14 years old. I’m living out a dream that I had long before I understood how big it would be before the Grammys, before the American Music Awards, before the opportunities to sing with Pavarotti and have Streisand do the song, and the other tenors and Ray Charles.”
CY: And Lady Gaga.
MB: “And then come full circle to yeah, the brand new busting out humongous artists like Gaga and Ne-Yo and a few other young artists who worked on this record with me, but Gaga of course has been just such a huge phenomenal launch and you know that is, that’s a great – you’ve taken it, the interview from Gaga to Streisand.
MB: “And I’ve had other interviews where people have said, ‘Michael, you have sung with Pavarotti, now you have sung with Lady Gaga. Tell me difference.’ And.”
CY: They’re all different.
MB: “They are all different. I was humbled and honored to work with these other artists and you know I’ve wrote with Dylan and I couldn’t even look at home without thinking, ‘Oh my God! This is Bob Dylan standing in front of me. Oh my God!’ And when I wrote with Gaga, I was still, I was admiring her, admiring her focus, admiring her gift, admiring her commitment to her gift. There’s something that means that much to me about someone not just accepting and using their gift, but really putting it to work. That’s so important to me. So the personal life to a great extent, it’s gonna be on hold. I see six months of touring, five to six months that is almost nonstop from here to around the world and I wouldn’t wish that on someone. I wouldn’t wish that.”
CY: And on top of it now you’re doing Dancing with the Stars. And I want to say Michael, I’ve taken up so much of your time and hang on with me on the line after this. Thank you so much again for your time today, I really appreciate it.
MB: “Thank you.”
Dancing with the Stars starts airing this Monday September 20th on ABC. You can go to http://www.dancingwiththestars.abc.com for more information.
Michael Bolton’s official website is at http://www.michaelbolton.com