R&B singer Mary J. Blige, who plays a strip club owner in the new 1980s-themed film "Rock of Ages," has MTV, pop star George Michael and rocker Pat Benatar to thank for helping her discover rock n' roll.
Blige and Michael had actually teamed up 13 years ago to release the duet "As," a Stevie Wonder cover that became one of the biggest hits in Europe in 1999 but did not enjoy the same level of success in the United States. Turns out she was a big fan of him when he was most famous - when he was part of the pop duo Wham!, known for the campy "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go."
"I was exposed to most of the rock n' roll in just these songs through TV," Blige told OnTheRedCarpet.com. "MTV was the only video station at the time and we all had it and we watched MTV. We were waiting on George Michael to show up, so while we were waiting on George Michael, Pat Benatar should show up. Wham!, you know, we waited on Wham! - we loved Wham! So that's how I got exposed, just through the visuals."
Wham! broke up in 1986 and Michael concentrated on a solo career. That year saw a rise in popularity of "hair metal" bands and singers, known for power ballads, rock anthems, enormous hair and bright makeup. They include the likes of Poison, Def Leppard and Benatar, whose music is featured in "Rock of Ages." Catherine Zeta-Jones, who plays a vindictive mayor, sings her 1980 song "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."
While Jones has been praised for her musical talents in the past, having won an Oscar for her role in the 2002 adaptation of Broadway's "Chicago," Blige is the only world renowned singer with a main role in "Rock of Ages." Her character, Justice, owns the Venus Club, a Los Angeles strip joint, and offers a job to small-town girl and aspiring singer Sherrie, played by leading actress Julianne Hough.
Blige has acted before, appearing in films such as the 2001 movie "Prison Song" and playing herself on an episode of "Entourage," but "Rock of Ages" marks her biggest on-screen acting role.
The singer already has other movie projects in the works - she is set to play the title character in "Nina," based on the life of jazz musician and classical pianist Nina Simone, and black civil rights leader Malcolm X's wife Betty Shabazz in "Parallel Lives." She says she is expected to begin filming the latter movie in September.
Blige told OnTheRedCarpet.com that while she loves having a music career, she also loves "doing the work with acting."
"It's therapeutic," she said. "You know ... the acting coach ... just finding the character is very therapeutic."
"Rock of Ages" was released on Friday, June 15.Reporting by Cari Skillman of KABC Television, which produces the entertainment show "On The Red Carpet" (check for local TV listings).