Four years after the TV special last aired, “VH1 Divas” returned to the airwaves with Paula Abdul assuming host duties and a slew of fierce performances by Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Leona Lewis and Jordin Sparks.
Making a return to prime time more than a month after leaving “American Idol,” Abdul began her emcee gig with a dance routine set to her vintage hits. Starting with “Cold Hearted,” she segued into a performance of “Opposites Attract” with MC Skat Kat — familiar to anyone who remembers the 1989 music video — dancing and singing on a screen behind her. From there, Abdul hit “Straight Up” and “Forever Your Girl,” ending the medley as her backup dancer picked her up and lifted her toward the ceiling.
“I’m Paula Abdul — and this is not ’American Idol!’ ” she said to begin her opening remarks.
The first hour of “Divas” showcased solo performances by the artists, while the second half mostly featured duets between new and older generations. Cyrus was the final solo act to appear, and in a video played before her song, she said, “My diva demands? I just want Frosted Flakes!”
Upping the energy factor in the room, Cyrus rocked out “Party in the USA” as she danced in a short black skirt alongside dancers in top hats and sleeveless tux shirts. Sheryl Crow joined Cyrus onstage for “If It Makes You Happy” as the show began to wrap up. The two looked like nothing if not mother and daughter.
Earlier in the first hour, Kelly Clarkson started out by busting into a slow-building version of “Already Gone” that had the “Idol” winner standing in an emerald gown and raising her hands to the roof as she nailed her high notes. Clarkson and Melissa Etheridge then closed the show with a hard-rocking take on “Bring Me Some Water.”
After giving birth to a son in August, Jennifer Hudson, wearing skintight leather pants, kicked off the evening’s diva displays with “Spotlight,” a soul-soaked cut from her 2008 album of the same name. J-Hud got to sing with the night’s only male artist — Stevie Wonder, playing the piano with his signature smile on display — as the duo traded off lyrics on Stevie’s “All in Love Is Fair.”
Jordin Sparks had more than a dozen backup dancers grinding behind her while the 19-year-old strutted to and fro across the stage during “S.O.S. (Let the Music Play),” from Battlefield. She had only one partner for her second performance, country singer Martina McBride, and together they took on McBride’s chart-topper “A Broken Wing.”
Adele pulled off a virtuosic version of “Hometown Glory” that drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd at the Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz had earlier declared September 17 “VH1 Divas Celebration Day in Brooklyn, USA.” Adele appeared again with a guitar-strumming India.Arie for a reggae-flecked rendition of “Video.”
Leona Lewis sang “Happy,” then returned after the commercial break to sing “True Colors” with the song’s 1986 originator, Cyndi Lauper. The women held hands as they shared the final lines.
Paula’s funniest moment of the night came when she danced her way onstage in a short blond wig, playfully imitating Ellen DeGeneres, who replaced her as a judge on “Idol.”
“Why you all staring at me? Can’t a girl try out a new job?” Abdul said while lounging on a talk-show-style couch. “All kidding aside, nothing but love, Ellen. I wish you the best of luck and congratulations on the new gig! And you got to call me if you have any Simon [Cowell] problems, because I know him best.”
If you missed “VH1 Divas” on Thursday night, don’t fret: Tune in to VH1 on Friday (September 18) at 7 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. or Sunday at 1 p.m. to see the Divas in action.