By Mark Ellwood | January 20, 2016 | People
The hardest-working woman in showbiz, Jennifer Lopez, is moving to Vegas for one of the most anticipated residencies in years. Naturally, she’s offering all she has.
Jennifer Lopez is deep in the auditioning process for her new Las Vegas residency, All I Have. She’s whittling through hundreds of hopefuls keen to join the dance troupe, and when it comes to assessing them, Lopez is a no-nonsense critic. “I started as a dancer, so I have an eye for it. I’ve done it my whole life,” she shrugs. Before her breakout as a booty-shaking Fly Girl on In Living Color, Lopez was a backup dancer in Janet Jackson videos and for New Kids on the Block at the 1991 American Music Awards. (In 2015, she returned to the same show, albeit as the headlining host.) Such experience has given Jennifer a pro’s perspective on those rooms full of hopefuls. “Sometimes other people—the music department or my management—might like a person, but I’m, like, ‘Oh, they’re a little bit weak in this part; there’s not enough technique.’”
It’s an approach her former dance teacher, Phil Black, would recognize. Black also schooled Madonna and John Travolta, but he has said proudly that then-budding star Lopez was a more memorable pupil than either the Material Girl or Tony Manero. Lopez, he explained, worked harder than anyone in a very competitive environment. She chuckles at the mention of one of her former mentors. “It’s always been my approach to performing, to work, to everything I do in life: I give it all I have,” she says. “That’s why it’s the name of my show.”
Jen (her team never calls her J.Lo) is the latest pop diva to take up residency in Las Vegas: An initial batch of 20 shows begins on January 20, 2016, at Planet Hollywood’s Axis Theater, and the stint runs through early summer. The spectacle she is planning is likely to eclipse the recent residencies of two other megastars: Britney Spears, who offered only a Piece of Me, and Mariah Carey, who, through February 21, promises to take audiences...To Infinity. “I want it to be a high-energy, Bronx kind of block party,” Lopez says, her New York twang still intact, “The most exciting shows make you dance, and scream, and jump up and down. I want people to really let loose.” She expects her eventual on-stage team to have more than just impressive footwork. “They’re bringing the story to life,” Lopez says, “so they’re an integral part of the show, acting a little bit, even.”
A residency in Vegas wasn’t part of Lopez’s long-term plan; it surfaced only after the entertainer performed at a sold-out show at the Colosseum on New Year’s Eve 2014. A show on the Strip, she realized, was a refreshing change from the usual arenas and stadium shows. “It’s a much more intimate experience, and it’s about real performers,” she says, citing Vegas legends Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. “Not everybody can really do that.” A residency differs from a conventional tour in other ways, too: the sets, for example. Shipping a show across the world, she says, is costly and constricting: “All your creative ideas get pared back, little by little, because it gets very expensive to put everything on a boat to China or Australia. In Vegas, though, you’re in one place, so I get to dream—the ideas I have [for sets] can come to life in a way they never have before. That’s why some of the best shows are in Vegas.”
There are certain challenges in performing here, though: The dry desert air, combined with ubiquitous air-conditioning, can be punishing on a singer’s vocal cords. Workaholic Dolly Parton famously agreed to a week-long set of shows in 1981 for a then-record fee of $350,000, only to suffer an attack of “Vegas Throat” on night one; she didn’t sing a note for the rest of the week. “I’ve run into that trouble in Vegas before,” Lopez says, wryly. “It’s super dry, so you have to take care of yourself and have tons of humidifiers.” (Maybe Celine Dion will let her borrow the $2 million system she apparently bought to help protect her voice against the same problem.)
“I want [the show] to be a high-energy, Bronx kind of block party,” Jennifer Lopez says. “The most exciting shows make you dance, and scream, and jump up and down.”
Lopez promises to perform the songs fans expect, though she’s planning to keep the set list fluid, adding fan-favorite album cuts or songs she’s loved herself. “I want the show to be always changing, so it’s a unique experience every time—one night a Selena song, and another maybe something by Diana Ross.” She plans to take inspiration, too, from whatever she’s humming in the kitchen at home; right now, that’s ballads by Sam Smith: “That song Lay Me Down? I really, really love it.”
Nowhere can Lopez more indulge her inner showgirl than with the costumes for All I Have—after all, this is a woman who has an entire drawer at home devoted to yellow diamonds and who relishes flipping through fashion magazines and marking up the pages that have outfits she wants to try, calling it “my favorite thing to do.” And she’s working with her longtime secret weapon, styling team Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn, on a Vegas-worthy wardrobe. To that end, she’s calling on the same roster of designers that has kept her red carpet-ready over the past few years: Balmain, Zuhair Murad, and, of course, Versace. It was Donatella Versace who gave Lopez her first global pop-culture moment: the unforgettable slash-fronted, green palm-print dress the performer wore to the 2000 Grammys as the date of her then-boyfriend, Diddy. Lopez still has that dress at home, but she says it won’t make an appearance during her Vegas shows. “Oh, I still have it, but we’re going to do all kinds of new stuff—I redid the Versace dress for my Bronx homecoming show [in 2014], so I don’t think I’ll repeat myself.”
Planning her new costumes is clearly one of her favorite parts of prepping for the residency. “It’s like a fantasy,” she coos. “When you think of Diana Ross, Cher, or Barbra Streisand, it’s their costumes that became their signature.” Indeed, Lopez has cited Streisand as an icon before, calling her “classic, timeless” and acknowledging that she would gladly model her career on the Oscar winner’s. Will she channel Babs in Vegas—maybe a head wrap, or two? She takes a deep breath, then exhales: “Oh, I’m just looking to do the best Jennifer Lopez show anyone has ever seen.”
She also continues to multitask, remaining on TV while her residency continues, including judging the final season of American Idol, her job on and off for five seasons. Calling herself “a great fan” of Idol’s sister show, So You Think You Can Dance, Lopez will welcome the most recent winner of that Fox series, 19-year-old Gaby Diaz, to her Vegas troupe for a few shows. Would a 19-year-old Lopez have auditioned for either show? “I don’t know, American Idol, maybe,” she says. That long-running singing competition clearly resonates with her, though, as she recalls her favorite moment of each season: the finale. “When the winner is announced, and you see that person’s dream come true, it’s such a human thing,” she says. “I still remember [season 11 winner] Phillip Phillips’ face. But I have mixed feelings about it ending—it’s a big celebration, but it’s melancholy at the same time. But something else will come up.”
For Lopez, that something is another TV show, Shades of Blue, a crime drama for NBC, and her first gig headlining a network series. Produced by Idol host Ryan Seacrest, and co-starring Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) and Drea de Matteo (The Sopranos), Shades of Blue is scheduled for mid-season 2016. In it, Lopez plays a single mom who works as an FBI agent in New York City and struggles with the morals of her job. “It’s set in the world of cops,” she says, “but it’s really about human nature—how we’re always riding a line of what’s right and what’s wrong, that slippery slope.”
Once she finishes shooting in a few weeks, she’ll dedicate herself to prepping for All I Have. Lopez will, doubtlessly, be scoping out the competition—though she’s already seen “Britney, Shania [Twain], Celine, and all the Cirque [du Soleil] shows,” and she’ll relish the chance to indulge at Vegas’s luxury boutiques.
Lopez doesn’t drink, and has said she has long left behind the late-night partying for which she was known in her Diddy-and-Versace era. Gambling isn’t a passion, either, though her Vegas stint will be especially appealing to one member of the family, her retired-school-teacher mother, Guadalupe, who indulges in the slots in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Since Mom’s such a fan of gambling, she’ll be one of the first to come here to check out the new show, right, Jen? “Even if she weren’t, she would still come and see me,” Lopez says, laughing, before pausing and adding, “Well, I like to think.” The rest of us will be right beside Guadalupe. For tickets, click here.
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