St. Petersburg, Russia, the cultural capital of the nation, home to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the Hermitage Museum and the Kirov Ballet.
Recently, this noble list was lengthened however briefly by cultural giants of our own age, names like Hasselhoff and Imbruglia, Bolton and Simple Minds.
From July 6 to 8, Peter the Great’s wide window on the west played host to the “White Nights of St. Petersburg” music festival, an odd little affair in which 18 contestants from 15 countries compete before a panel of judges headed by ex-X Factor evaluator and one-time singer/dancer, Paula Abdul.
Performances by competitors were interspersed by B-list acts from the '80s and '90s, including Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet, Natalie Imbruglia and Michael Bolton.
Over all, the “White Nights of St. Petersburg” made for three enjoyable evenings of musical entertainment. But still, there’s something sad about middle-aged '80s rockers revisiting their hits.
David Hasselhoff chipped in with a performance of his Berlin Wall crumbling anthem, “Looking for Freedom,” which drew a tepid response leaving his handlers groaning about the crowd.
Backstage, the Hoff groused about missing luggage and late flights but finally got around to dispensing a pearl of wisdom as he nears his 60th birthday: “Life is not fair.”
That’s probably true for most of us. But is it true for the Hoff? A guy who made a fortune filming Pamela Anderson in a bathing suit?
When asked about his birthday plans, he responded, “One way maybe is to stay in bed with my girlfriend, make love 60 times!”
Now that I’ve killed your libido, let me kill your ears. Listen in as Michael Bolton murders ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Puccini’s “Turandot” at a fundraiser for a local children’s hospital where items like an iPad signed by Abdul was auctioned for $13 thousand.
“Sometimes I won’t know till I walk on stage, ‘Uh-oh, wrong song!” said Bolton. When assured by a sycophantic journalist that he nailed it, Bolton laughed, “I was very tired last night.” Yeah, so was Puccini -- from spinning in his grave.
On the roof of the W Hotel in the shadow of the dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, reporters and artists gathered for a Q&A session. Imbruglia talked about launching a film career and Spandau's Hadley reminisced about embracing communism as a youth.
He later caught up with journalists at an after party and proved to be a pretty cool guy to have a drink with. He even offered to foot the bill, no doubt forgetting it was an open bar.
“I don’t know if anybody knows Spandau Ballet in Russia,” said Hadley. “What’s interesting is that a lot of people who come to the shows now are younger kids because their moms and dads said, ‘You must listen to Spandau Ballet.”
Of all the celebs on hand, Abdul was the belle of the ball. Everywhere she went photographers and sorted sycophants followed, including an after party at the Soho Club where she danced like her hair was on fire.
She avoided the press all week, inexplicably waiting for the winner of the competition to be announced at which time she effectively stole his thunder and finally sat down for some interviews.
“Winning competitions, winning talent shows, it’s part of that drive that you get as a kid,” said Abdul. “Competition is healthy. It helps you raise your game.”
She went on to discuss her termination from “The X-Factor” last January, a move that caught many fans off guard.
“I’ve been in this business way too long to take things personally,” said Abdul who was axed by her old frenemy, Simon Cowell. “Believe it or not, Simon and I are friends. It’s a warped kind of thing.”
While Abdul was contemplating her post-"X-Factor" existence, Studio City’s own Tyler Conti took top prize at the competition, a purse worth $30 thousand. Probably what sealed it was his percussive rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” that brought the house down.
Conti tearfully told the crowd how he nearly died of an overdose seven years ago and had been rebuilding his life ever since.
In second place was Albania’s Rona Nishliu, a bizarre looking but talented jazz singer with a massive knot of dreadlocks piled on top of her head.
Third prize went to Amen, a sizzling classic rock band from Peru, while fourth went to Felicity Kaya, a stunning chanteuse representing Turkey by way of the U.K.
While each was being feted on stage, Abdul was waiting in the wings with words of advice:
“You have to be able to brush yourself off and put yourself together and go out there and give it your best shot again and again,” said the ex-cheerleader. “You have to be grateful that you are getting to do what you love to do. It’s a blessing.”