Between the picturesque backdrop of the Griffith Observatory and the glorious vocals emanating from the curved white stage, Adele’s return to public performing radiated majesty.
Her two-hour special, “Adele One Night Only,” aired on CBS Sunday, a combination concert from the historic Los Angeles site and interview to discuss her anticipated fourth studio album, “30,” arriving Friday. The show attracted a mighty audience of nearly 10 million viewers, making it the most watched entertainment special since the Academy Awards in April.
Of course, with Oprah Winfrey as the interviewer – from the rose garden near her tea house – and an audience of 300 packed with Hollywood luminaries (Melissa McCarthy, Lizzo, Leonardo DiCaprio, Drake, James Corden, Seth Rogen among them), it would have been easy for this affair to get mired in celebrity ickiness.
But the combination of Adele’s authenticity, her natural beauty, her unparalleled vocal talent and her willingness to undress her deepest emotions in song, coalesced for a special that felt exactly that – special.
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Filmed at the end of October, the show offered 10 Adele songs, including four from her upcoming album.
Starting with “Hello” – which she told Winfrey she’ll always have to use as a concert launch – Adele brushed aside tendrils of hair blowing in the gentle breeze. With her band and an orchestra nearby, Adele bounced in place in her curve-hugging black mermaid gown, leaning into the song’s chorus with gusto.
This was, she announced, the first time her 9-year-old son, Angelo, was seeing her perform. “It’s the honor of my life, baby, to have you here,” she directed toward him.
The show rolled out some hits (“Someone Like You,” “When We Were Young,” “Skyfall”) and included an arranged proposal. Though it felt like an odd insert, the segment allowed Adele the opportunity to sing her creamy version of Bob Dylan’s beautifully unvarnished “Make You Feel My Love” to the newly engaged couple.
During the run-up to the release of “30,” Adele has talked plenty about the songs originating during her split from husband and Angelo’s dad, Simon Konecki. Her new material is unsparing in its vulnerability.
Fans have already made the first single, “Easy on Me,” a worldwide smash, but the other three songs she debuted are arguably musically richer.
“I Drink Wine” is hardly the frolicking party tune its title might suggest. Instead, Adele conjures a throwback to classic soul songs and wonders, “How can we both become a version of the person we don’t even like?” before pleading, “I need some substance in my life, something real, something that feels true.”
“Love Is a Game” – constructed like an old-fashioned standard with swirls of ‘70s soul – provides Adele with her Judy Garland moment. You could imagine her holding a burning cigarette in a dim cabaret as an organ flutters behind her and she sings, “my heart speaks in puzzles and codes.”
But in a catalog crammed with personal testimony, “Hold On” might be Adele’s most intuitive new song. “I’m such a mess, the harder that I try, I regress. I’m my own worst enemy. Right now I truly hate being me.”
With her own background vocals adding a haunting touch, the otherwise stark ballad was penned in a pit of despair, but ascends into a hopeful prayer (“Let the pain be gracious,” Adele sings).
From her interview staged in Winfrey’s rose garden, Adele also shared that she can dead lift 160-170 pounds (“It started at 10 pounds!” she said with you-can-do-it-too emphasis); she would like more children, but “It wouldn’t be the end of the world” if she never expanded her family; and that “peace of mind” and “stability” are her two greatest desires in life.
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Among Adele’s other revelations to Winfrey:
Her ex-husband rescued her emotionally
“I think Simon probably saved my life; he came at such a moment. The stability him and Angelo have given me, no one else would have been able to give me…I could easily gone down some dodgy paths…He came in and was stable, the most stable person I’ve ever had in my life. Even now I trust him with my life. I feel like him and Angelo were angels sent to me.”
She exercised to combat ‘paralyzing’ anxiety attacks
Adele shed about 100 pounds in two years primarily through exercise. She told Winfrey she started working out to combat “paralyzing” anxiety attacks and because she had the time. “It became my time, me having a plan when I had no plans…having these ‘pins’ in my day helped me keep myself together.”
While some fans might have felt Adele’s everywoman appeal took a hit with her glamorous makeover, she shrugs off any criticism. “I’m not shocked or even fazed by it. My body has been objectified my entire career. Am I too big? Am I too small? I never looked up to anyone because of their body…I was body positive then and I’m body positive now. It’s not my job to validate how people feel about their bodies. I’m trying to sort me own life out!”
Her love for boyfriend Rich Paul
“He’s hilarious. He’s so funny. And very smart. He’s very, very smart. It’s quite incredible watching him do what he does and just the easiness of it – it’s very smooth. He’s making it easy on me. I’m blushing,” she said with a laugh, “he’s right over there…(This is) the first time I’ve loved myself and been open to loving and being loved by someone else.”
Healing the wounds from her father
“My dad’s absolute lack of presence and effort with me,” Adele responded to Winfrey’s query about what she’s trying to repair within herself. “As I got older, I definitely understood that it was the alcohol, it wasn’t a choice he was making himself…During the last two-to-three years of my life, my dad got really sick. That happened just after having left my marriage when I made the conscious decision to get to know myself and figure some things out. April, when he died, we had our peace together. I felt that huge gaping hole filled. We forgave each other.”