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Donna Summer: It's good to be the queen

  • Story Highlights
  • Donna Summer, '70s "Queen of Disco," has new album, "Crayons"
  • Summer going on tour this summer in United States
  • Singer, now 59, is grandmother; youngest grandchild calls her "Gwammy"
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By KJ Matthews
CNN
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Donna Summer's reign as the "Queen of Disco" may have begun in the 1970s -- more than 30 years ago -- but that doesn't mean she's slowed down in the 21st century.

With a new album, "Crayons," just out, and a tour coming up, Summer has re-entered the limelight as if she'd never left.

The woman known for "Love to Love You Baby," "Bad Girls" and "She Works Hard for the Money" appeared on the finale of "American Idol" and performed some of her greatest hits with the show's leading female singers. She also did a short duet with third-place Syesha Mercado.

The "Queen of Disco," now 59, sat down with CNN to talk about her upcoming tour, her performance on "Idol" and her status as a "gwammy." The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: Let's start with "American Idol." ... How did all that come about?

Donna Summer: Well, you know, I did the show about two or three years ago, the year Fantasia won. And they've been asking me to come back. And so this year it worked out that my album was coming out and ... they wanted to, uh, have a lot of surprises in the last show and so [the producers called and asked], "Do you wanna do the show?" And I'm like HELLO! Of course! (laughs) [It has] like the most high viewership in the world! So I said I'd do it.

CNN: How much fun was that, to see ... [the contestants] singing your famous tunes?

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Summer: Exciting! The first day we went to rehearsals, the kids were just starting to rehearse -- and I do say kids (laughs). ... They were doing such a beautiful job, I almost started crying because I felt like wow, what a legacy, my songs are passing to another generation. ... Made me kind of misty, actually. (laughs) [It] really did.

CNN: I was wondering ... how many times your songs have been sampled. ... Have you ever listened to [the radio] and said yeah, I own that tune?

Summer: Oh yeah, all the time. ... It's a wonderful compliment. ... If this is what people do nowadays, fine, just pay me my royalties, you know what I'm saying here? Video Find out what Summer's favorite Summer song is »

CNN: Talk about "Crayons."

Summer: Well, let's start with the name, OK? "Crayons" is named "Crayons" primarily because when you were a little kid and you got your first box of crayons ... you open them up and there you go, you start scribbling on everything in sight. ... You're like a force to reckon with after you get your first crayon. ...

So the concept is, we're free when were little kids, were out of the box, we don't have any restrictions. And this album for me, is an out of the box album, I set no restrictions, except that no two songs could be the same. ...

I don't like to be categorized because I think that I am an instrument, and if you play me, I'll make whatever particular sound is supposed to come out for that color, and so, in the overall spectrum of things, I'm just trying to be true to my, what I feel my mission is.

CNN: I would imagine on your off days, you listen to all different types of music anyway.

Summer: I love music, period. Just music, all kinds of music. And I listen to everything, literally. Everything from Moroccan music to Indian music, to, I mean, I get the Bollywood soundtracks, I'm all over the board, I love music.

CNN: Are there any special collaborations that might surprise some of your fans?

Summer: I got to work with Ziggy Marley on the title track, "Crayons." He was in L.A. and I was in Florida, miles apart, but with today's technology, it made it possible for us to actually work together, and it's such an exciting thing.

CNN: The thing about your performances I love [is] you still have the enthusiasm of some new artist that's only been on the scene for like a year.

Summer: Well, I am new. ... The audience every night is new, and because they're new, I have to bring that newness every time to them, and I try also in the way I do my show to leave open spaces for the audience to be with me, and to feel that they're getting me as a person, and not just all production. ...

I use Judy Garland as my sort of visual mentor for this, because she was so "in here," that every moment. I mean, you couldn't tell what was going on behind her, because you couldn't see it, you could only see her.

CNN: Tell me about the tour.

Summer: It starts July the 5th, I think it is, in Vienna, Virginia. ... We will be out all summer.

CNN: Is it the North American tour?

Summer: Just North America, just the United States, and this is the first portion of the tour and uh, everything's new, new sets, new everything. And some little surprises in there.

CNN: You have obviously grown over the years and had a family. (She's been married to Bruce Sudano since 1980.) You have daughters, how are they doing?

Summer: My daughters are stunningly beautiful, they are gorgeous girls ... they all could be models, and they all have modeled. But, beyond all that, they're talented, and they're lovely ladies, and I am so honored to be their parent.

One of my daughters is an actress, she is on a new show called "The Revolution," I think it is, and it's on the Sci Fi channel. And Amanda, my baby daughter, she's in a band called Johnnyswim.

And my oldest daughter has three kids and I'm a "gwammy." I'm a gwammy, now! What do you think? (laughs) I mean I can't believe it, when I come home and the little one's going "Gwammy, gwammy."

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CNN: I know it's been so long since you've been called the disco queen, but you know, I'm sure there are still people that come up to you off the street and say, "Oh, the Queen of Disco." How do you feel when you hear that?

Summer: Oh, I love it! It's great I'm the queen. Look, its nice to be the queen of something, darling.

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