Luxe Life Blog
Backup singer Elise Duguay says Celine Dion ‘makes all the difference’
After a seven-week break, superstar singer Celine Dion resumed her headline run of shows at Caesars Palace tonight, and her backup singer Elise Duguay, who is considering moving to Las Vegas full time, first met Celine in 1987 and has spoken candidly about their nearly 25-year relationship. The interview backstage in Celine’s guest lounge at The Colosseum painted an intimate portrait of their professional and personal lives.
Elise told me: “I never wanted to be a star myself. I never wanted to be up front. I was always happy and having fun in the background.” The singers met on the small 10- to 15-city Incognito Tour in 1987 when Elise was a backup singer in Quebec. Afterward, Elise returned to her TV and recording studio background vocal work, but then out of the blue in 1994, Celine called, and the call changed Elise’s life.
“She was becoming big in America. I was called in when one of the singers left. I didn’t have to audition, but I only had a week to learn the show vocally in Montreal. I learned in my own living room watching a video of her in Boston. Seven days later, I was onstage with her in Toronto. I’ve been one of her backup singers ever since, and now I am the longest. We have traveled everywhere in the world. I was here in Las Vegas for the entire run of A New Day and then around the world for two years. Now we are all so happy to be back in Las Vegas again.”
Elise, a former cello player in a touring Cirque du Soleil show in Japan, has two brothers who also are singers. She returned to her Montreal studio work when Celine took time off to have children. I asked Elise to explain her role in the show. She said: “We complete the package. We bring a little movement to the stage. There’s the vocals, the different harmonies, we dance, we move, we execute the choreography. It looks good.
“I’m passionate about the harmony of voices, the way they blend and mix. The union of voices touches me and gives me goose bumps. I like being in the background. There are three of us. We are very faithful people, and it works. I am perfectly fulfilled. I work for the most amazing and nicest woman.
“Celine has this particular voice that nobody in the world can match. We try to blend in with her. I think that all backup singers have to have the talent to blend with the lead singer. You might never recognize our voice, but it becomes a complete package. I think my voice is constantly getting better because she has such an amazing voice. I watch her and listen and always try to better myself. The voice is a muscle, so practice and exercise, like everything else.
“I still to this day go over my vocals every day. I go in my room and do my warm-up for close to an hour every night of the show, and then we have the nightly sound check with Celine. My day starts with warm-ups as early as 1 or 2 p.m. Then at 4 p.m., I come to The Colosseum to start hair. I like to be prepared.”
Elise loves Celine’s new schedule because it meshes with her own son so well. Elise has a 9-year-old son Lucas, who until now has gone on tour, too. She wants to settle down here, since Celine’s show will be here for five years, and give him stability. She continued: “Celine wanted this schedule for her son because of school. It meshes with my son, too.
“The longest we will go without seeing each other is three weeks, so it’s not too bad. We have Skype. And that technology is amazing. My son understands I am a singer in a star’s show, but I don’t think it matters to him in any special way. When he was on tour with us, Celine was just a person to him. But now at school, he is beginning to get questions about Celine.
“We love doing this show every night. With the audience, it’s never the same. Celine has her jokes, we have our jokes in the back. It is fun. Every show is different! She makes jokes with us, but she is very professional.
“Celine doesn’t play the star. The whole world is amazed by the simplicity of our team. I'm very proud of what we do but very modest about it. We’re one big team. There are incredible friendships built among us. We always say being with Celine is the best we have ever seen. She -- and she alone -- makes all the difference. She eats, laughs, dances and jokes with us. She mingles with the musicians, the technicians, the truck drivers. She is warm, maternal and very protective. If someone is sick or injured, you can be sure that Celine is always the first to tend to the person.
“After every show when she has returned to her dressing room, she thanks everyone over the loud speaker. She is really very generous! She loves people. She is disciplined but always in a good mood, and I'm lucky to be working at her side. We are both preoccupied with our voices. We have to take very good care of it, and sometimes we’ll do vocal exercises together to warm up the chords.
Stacey Tookey, a judge and choreographer on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, worked with Celine for five years on A New Day and echoed Elise’s sentiments.
“Celine is the best boss ever. That five-year run was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. She treated us like gold. We were taken care of so well with the best trainers, teachers and physical therapy people for yoga, Pilates and massage. We even got free haircuts, and Wolfgang Puck catered a meal once a week for us where Celine would come around and just hang out with us. That’s rare for a celebrity of her standard. I can’t say enough great things about her.”
Elise continued: “I’m ready to do it for a very long time. It is a passion and my pleasure. We have a good relation with Celine. Onstage, she makes faces at us and rolls her eyes. She’s a real tease! I collaborate with Celine when she performs ‘The Power of Love.’ During ‘Misled’ and ‘Love Can Move Mountains,’ the backup singers are placed at the front of the stage to dance, clap our hands and get the audience involved.”
Elise is happiest of all being back in her second home of Las Vegas, which now could turn into a full-time residence. “I was very happy to come back. After we moved back to Canada in 2007, I hadn’t been back. I was actually anxious to get back. It’s my home away from home now. My husband (Denis Savage) and I have spoken about moving here when our son goes to high school. We really enjoy being back.
“We didn’t know it was just like any other city when we first moved here. I am very, very happy with my life, with Celine’s show. The only thing I would like is to learn more cello. Maybe I’ll get good one night so I can change places and become one of the three cello players for their segment.”
Celine’s new run that kicked off tonight -- and included Sir George Martin, Steve Wynn and Phil Ruffin in the audience -- continues through Aug. 14. Then Sir Elton John and Rod Stewart have concert dates at Caesars Palace until her Dec. 28 return through Jan. 22, with tickets now on sale for those dates.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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