A Personal Interview

The whispery, husky ballad-singer

Sometime in fall this year, Donna Lewis and her small entourage packed their belongings and left Lewis' upstate New York mansion for trip halfway around the world. They booked themselves a gruelling 13-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur for a personal appearance in the live and televised coverage to 1/6th the world's population. When they arrived in Malaysia, they found a country that made them sweat even "in the backs of our elbows".

Sept. 23, 1998 Kuala Lumpur -- The closing ceremony for KL98 found itself being sewn up with The Corrs and Donna Lewis, two top-billed international performers who would slam the gilded doors shut once and for all.
Welsh-born Lewis, who considers KL98 a winning coup, took it as an opportunity to introduce her second album Blue Planet to Asia. Asked about whether Lewis is out to disproved the one-hit wonder label dogging her debut hit 'I Love You Always Forever', she's bemused and says, "Being labelled doesn't bother me. Alanis (Morrisette) is going to be under the same thing with her second album; though she's a huge artist but people are still going to say 'is that as good as Jagged Little Pill?' People can think whatever they want."
Lewis, on the other hand, is keen to relive the here and now. She is thrilled by the Bukit Jalil ordeal, and makes no apologies for the small glitches that marred the evening.

How did you react when you received the offer to sing at the closing ceremony?
Lewis: Martin and I had just finished the record "Blue Planet" in Ireland and we thought, gosh that's good and then of course it was panic stage. We snapped a band together and sent all the visas over immediately. We didn't even know if we could pull it off. And it was hard; I was doing promotion for my record in Europe at the time. The band and I rehearsed for a week; it was kind of a scary thing having to rush.

Why didn't you turn down the offer instead of running through half-baked?
Lewis: But we really wanted to do it. I remember Martin and I talking, and we decided to make this work. He said, "It's gonna be brilliant for you to actually be part of the Games and of course it's a perfect time for the record." It was a big opportunity. Besides, the Commonwealth Games includes Wales and England, and it's a bit like home. You belong to all that. It was good, you know. I remember going out there and saying 'oh my god look at all those people', because it's the biggest thing we have ever done. That stadium is so impressive, coming down those steps and seeing everybody ... phew ..

You never had a crowd this big?
Lewis: No, although we've done quite a lot of stadiums in America. But prior to this I've only played to about 35,000 people, which is a lot but no, never in a stadium like that.

There was a transmission glitch in the beginning of your first song ...
Lewis: Yes, when I walked on stage I knew that the first two lines of my song were not reaching anyone. I screamed "Malaysia Boleh" twice and nobody could hear me! I could hear myself shrieking because I have my ear monitors, but at the same time I could tell that something happened with the microphone feed.

Were you worried, panicky?
Lewis: Yeah, underneath I was thinking oh god, please don't let this happen. I remember watching Paul McCartney performing at Live Aid, and there was no sound for the entire song. You could only hear the piano, which he was playing, but no voice. The problem happens when they don't root the channels properly. I remember McCartney being interviewed, and he said that through the headphones he could hear the crew running around backstage like crazy and he knew something was deadly wrong. It's horrendous for that to happen onstage.

Couldn't someone help you out there?
Lewis: Martin was in the outdoor television units - the little trucks that are parked outside the stadium and which broadcast the feed to the rest of the world - and he said my voice just disappeared. There's a tag guy on stage with us, in case anything goes wrong. He could tell something was wrong because he has ear monitors that sounded echoey. But I couldn't ask for his help. It was difficult because if you turned to your tag guy onstage we would have somehow bungled the communication anyway. To be honest, in most situations on television, you haven't got a choice. You can't stand there and say hang on a minute, I can't hear myself. You just gotta perform. That's what live television is all about.

Why did you neglect the soundchecks?
Lewis: I wish I didn't have to. But you can't have that liberty with outdoor events. That's why I've always preferred smaller, indoor theatres. In a stadium this huge, you just have to trust the people who are behind it.

You donned cargo pants and boots for your performance. What's that image all about?
Lewis: At the moment cargo pants are in. I changed, because while doing I Love You Always Forever I was really into tight fitting tops, leather trousers and really nice, smart jackets from Paul Smith. This year I've been much more casual. I love the comfort of cargo pants although after looking at myself on screen the other night I don't think I'll wear those again. They made me look enormous!

Yes, a lot of people wondered what sort of togs you had on.
Lewis: I didn't even mean to wear that. When I came over I brought a fabulous dress with tiny straps, but after I got here someone informed me that I'd have to wear sleeves because it's Asian television. That threw me out completely!

But your replacement was transparent and showed your arms, so didn't that defeat the whole purpose?
Lewis: It was the only thing I had. I was going to wear this apron dress from a New York designer but they said you can't, so I chose a long-sleeved top from an Australian designer, Collette Dinnigan. It wasn't really what I planned to wear. And I certainly wasn't going to wear the cardigan I wore on the plane.

Like The Corrs did?
Lewis: Yeah, I mean they all wore cardigans. Andrea wore a shrug! I was talking to them before and Andrea said, "I was melting". Caroline, the drummer, claimed to have roasted with her thick shirt on. I wish really, that someone would have told us before we came. It was so hot. I was looking over at my bass player and I could see sweat coming through his clothes. This condition, for us, we're not used to it. And to top it all we had to absolutely keep covered.

So that's over and done with. What are your plans now?
Lewis: I'm going back to Europe to promote I Could Be The One and since Loving Me is being released shortly I think we'll be going back for more of that. Afterwards, on to Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. The album is still in the early stages so there's going to be lots of promotions to do. I'm hoping that we can actually start doing some live tours in South America. But of course, I'll never see a stadium like Bukit Jalil again. That was wild!

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