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Too many divas, not enough time

Fame, attitude, bling-bling aren't nearly enough to make a singer a diva.
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Jessica Simpson will be one of the headliners in Sunday night's 'Divas' concert on VH1, which points to a situation that needs to be addressed. Now.

It won't rise to the level of national security, but it needs to be said. No more divas by publicist's decree. None. Enough. The time has come -- it's long past, actually -- to put a stop to this.

Time was, the status of diva was something special, something you had to earn. And not earn in your first 30 seconds of the obligatory 15 minutes of fame.

Stardom is a subset of divadom; you're a star before you're a diva, but not immediately before. Being a diva is not just attitude, it's not just talent, concert grosses, units sold or bling-bling, the SPF factor of modern celebrity.

Dealing with timeBeing a diva is mostly about time, the great leveler, and how ably you survive its passage. Somewhere along the way, the dictates of divadom got confused with stardom.

It's perhaps a consequence of our culture's insatiable drive for instant gratification, the extension of fast-food culture into entertainment at its most patently ridiculous. It's an illogical progression from the notions advanced by "American Idol," which conveys iconic status on the basis of a three-judge panel and a call-in vote.

Divadom is the status granted to those who've been alive long enough to know the joy and pain of life, its necessary highs and lows, and who also have the requisite chops to communicate those highs and lows onstage. Every time out. Every night (well, most nights, anyway). No excuses. No bad-hair evenings. No holdouts because someone didn't put red M&Ms in the candy dish backstage, in accordance with the contract rider.

There should be a ground rule, a law, even: You can't be called a diva until you've been in the business for at least 10 years. That would thin the herd in a hurry. Christina Aguilera? Sit down dear. Alicia Keys? A phenomenal talent -- all due props -- but she's almost too young to even say "diva."

Who makes the cut?
Britney? Please. Pleeeeeze. Technically, she makes the cut with her long-ago tenure as a Mouseketeer, but are you really ready to call her a diva? She didn't even stay a wife for more than three days; with an attention span like that, the title's probably wasted on her, anyway.

So who qualifies? Let me enlighten.

Aretha Franklin is the real deal, one of the few living singers who truly deserves the title Diva -- capitalized. For more than 40 years, she's walked the walk and talked the talk ... and her voice, while not the clarion instrument it was 20 or 30 years ago, still summons an undeniable authority. Nobody sings like Aretha because nobody's lived like Aretha.

Tina Turner? No question. She triumphed over Ike Turner -- no small feat -- then moved on to a stellar solo career on her terms, all the while maintaining an energy and presence singers half her age (65!) would kill for.

Whitney Houston? For all her personal troubles of late, Whitney can still power a song to places other singers can only imagine. The Star-Spangled Banner will never be the same.

Mariah Carey? Chronologically, she gets the nod (her first album came out in June 1990). And emotionally, with the array of personal and professional troubles she's experienced, the merciless dissing of her movie, and negotiating the attitudes of a fickle public -- Mariah qualifies.

Gray hairs and laugh lines
There are others outside the pop realm. Leontyne Price -- the famed soprano who has won more than 20 Grammy awards. Jessye Norman, a singer of uncommon range, from opera to jazz standards.

And there have been others: Betty Carter. Nina Simone. Carmen McRae. Divas one and all -- and not because their agents and handlers decided they were divas.

Andy Warhol coined the phrase years ago, how everyone in the world gets to be famous for 15 minutes. True divas show how elastic that little rule can be; they understand that some minutes are longer than others because of what you are, not what you say you are.

To all the singers pining for divadom: Relax. Slow down. Take a deep breath. Live life. Grow up -- get a few gray hairs, a few laugh lines. Let the clock make you a diva. Promise: it'll never really happen otherwise.