Wichita lucked out.
If Michael Bolton were lighter on his feet, he'd still be competing on "Dancing With the Stars" and wouldn't be able to keep his long-scheduled appearance at Wichita's Orpheum on Tuesday night.
But Bolton and his partner, Chelsie Hightower, were the second couple booted off the show less than two weeks ago following a clunky jive number that brought down the wrath of judge Bruno Tonioni, who pronounced it the worst in the 11-season history of the show and gave Bolton an unprecedented 3 out of 10.
Tonioni was so over-the-top with his vitriol, however, that Bolton quickly and decisively won the battle for audience hearts and minds. As one observer put it, Bolton can now dance all the way to the bank, thanks to the ton of sympathetic publicity, as he returns to his ambitious "One World, One Love World Tour" that will now reach 110 cities by the end of 2010.
A publicist confirmed that the singer, who sprang to fame in the 1980s as a golden-curled, smoldering balladeer that drove ladies wild, didn't have to cancel any dates because of his quick departure from "DWTS."
Now 57, with 18 studio albums (including three consecutive No. 1s), 35 singles (nine of them No. 1), two Grammys and sales of more than 53 million records, Bolton has cropped his flowing locks but he hasn't settled or slowed. He's added classical to his repertoire after singing with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. He's co-written songs with such diverse talents as Bob Dylan and Kanye West. He is now widening his horizons to collaborate with Lady Gaga, R&B singer Ne Yo and Jamaican musician Tami Chynn.
When he reflects on such a range, he jokes that it seems "like I've been in this business 142 years."
Honoring the past
While he's continually reinventing himself and exploring today's rhythms to find new fans, Bolton isn't about to close the door on his past because, he says, it wouldn't be fair to fans who have been faithful for 30 years.
"It's wise to keep in touch and be aware that people primarily are coming for the greatest hits," Bolton said during a phone conversation. "When you hear stories about an artist who comes through, and your friends say, 'He didn't do any of his hits' or 'I waited all night and he only did this one song,' you get the sense they weren't satisfied — even though the new album is great or the new body of music has genius in it. When I hear that, I know I don't want to be that artist. It shouldn't be all about, 'Well, this is what I'm promoting so everybody bear with me.' "
For Bolton, that means keeping alive oldies like "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" (co-written with Laura Branigan), "That's What Love Is All About," "Soul Provider," "Missing You Now" and "Time, Love & Tenderness."
But it also means soul-stirring covers of Otis Redding's "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind" and, one of his fans' all-time favorites, Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman."
Bolton says he was warned by some record industry insiders not to monkey with classics because it was a losing game. One executive even demanded that he take "Dock of the Bay" off one of his albums.
"I found myself kind of having to defend myself and justify approaching a song that I loved as a kid. To me, the Percy Sledge version is the definitive version. I just wanted to do something that says, 'OK, this is my take on it. This is my approach,' " Bolton says. "It's not a competitive thing."
Bolton stuck to his guns, sang "Dock of the Bay" and was given a glowing review by Redding's widow.
"If I had listened to that record executive, I would also have taken 'When a Man Loves a Woman' off the album," he says. "I fought for it and it became No. 1 in a very short time and I won my second Grammy for vocal performance because of it."
Favors intimate theaters
Bolton will be performing in Wichita's 1922 Orpheum Theatre, and he says he prefers such intimate venues to many of today's huge arenas.
"We all like to say, 'Hey, I can sell out a stadium,' but what I've found over the years is that a lot of theaters are beautifully done (acoustically). I like the sound of more intimate theaters than arenas with a lot of echo and people telling you how they were in the nosebleed section," Bolton says.
Bolton is divorced and is the father of three grown daughters. He hit the tabloids during the past decade with his on-again, off-again romance with "Desperate Housewives" star Nicolette Sheridan.
Now, he's raising eyebrows for working with Lady Gaga. So, what's it like?
First of all, he says, they began their collaboration before she became an international style icon and cultural juggernaut. She was introduced to him merely as a longtime fan and a good songwriter who wanted a chance to work on a future Bolton album.
"I called back and said, 'What does she do? Does she write lyrics? Does she just do music? Does she play an instrument?' They said, 'She does it all — and she's involved in production as well,' " Bolton says. "So I said, 'Well, I'd love to write with her. When is she available?' And they said, 'Tonight at 8 o'clock.' "
The two hit it off immediately. So many new talents are manufactured in recording studios and don't hold up live on stage, he says, but Lady Gaga is the real deal.
"She knew my range, she knew my records, so she started singing some ideas she had. That was great. I was hearing Gaga sing to me with a great voice, perfectly in tune, and I was impressed. I was looking at a real artist, a young, new, about-to-be-released artist who really could sing and really loved what she was doing.
"Three or four months later, she became the biggest artist in the world."
The two collaborated on "Murder My Heart" for Bolton's current "One World, One Love" album. He jokes that when doing press about the album, particularly in Europe, one thing was inevitable.
"The question would always come up, 'What was Gaga wearing in the studio?' I'm not used to that being the center of an interview," he says. "But I got used to it."
If you go
What: "One World, One Love World Tour"
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
How much: Tickets: $98, $58 and $38 (balcony); available through Select-A-Seat at 316-755-7328 or www.selectaseat.com or Dillons superstores and plant employee clubs.