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'American Idol' Alum Melinda Doolittle, Gloria Gaynor Team Up for Duet

"It was equally exciting and intimidating," says the season-six finalist of working on Gaynor's "If I Love You."

Gloria Gaynor P
Troy Word

When legendary disco diva Gloria Gaynor needed a duet partner for one of the songs on her new album, We Will Survive, her manager, Stephanie Gold, made a suggestion. “She asked me if I remembered Melinda Doolittle from American Idol, and of course I did,” Gaynor tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought she was an awesome person, so Stephanie called her in Nashville and she said she would be pleased to do it.”

Doolittle was happy to hear from Gold. “My reaction came in stages,” she recalls for THR. “First disbelief, then sheer excitement, then nervousness. I'm such a fan that I wanted to make sure I would do our duet justice.”

Gaynor and Gold flew Doolittle to New York and the first thing they did was take her to dinner. “What an amazing person,” says Gaynor. “Such a doll and a sweet girl, talented beyond measure. It was a wonderful experience recording the song.”

Doolittle remembers that first evening: “I went to dinner with a very clear intention. I wanted to soak up whatever knowledge I could about the music business and how she has maintained such a great career. She was so happy to answer any questions I had with complete honesty. I felt like I was in a master class. One of my favorite lessons was to surround yourself with great people. Her manager, Stephanie, is a gem and Gloria explained that was of utmost importance.”

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The song Gaynor and Doolittle recorded is “If I Love You.” The season-six alum remembers being in the studio with Gaynor: “The recording session was amazing! We both put on headphones and recorded standing right across from each other. It was equally exciting and intimidating. However, she made sure I felt right at home. By the time we got to the ad lib section, we were just plain having fun.”

The “I Will Survive” singer left a lasting impression on Doolittle. “She is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. She not only asked me to sing with her, she took the time to pour into my life as an artist. I feel like I have had an experience that people only dream of. After hearing about her journey, I now know why she never tires of singing ‘I Will Survive.’ It is truly what she has done in her life and career and what she instills in anyone who has the pleasure of being in her company. I am a better person and artist having met Gloria Gaynor.”

Gaynor’s new album shares a title with her new book, the second she has written. We Will Survive, written with Sue Carswell and published by Grand Harbor Press, collects stories from people relaying what Gaynor’s No. 1 song, “I Will Survive,” meant to them, during personal struggles and tribulations. “People have been telling me these stories ever since the song first became popular. They would see me in the street or at airports, supermarkets and department stores and tell me how this song had affected their lives. I'll never forget one woman who came up to me at Bloomingdale's. She was crying and she told me when her husband passed away, the song gave her strength to make it through all of that. These stories have encouraged and inspired me, and I needed to share that with the world so people could read about someone who has gone through something that they are now going through. They have come out the other side victorious. How encouraging is that?”

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After writing the book, Gaynor spent two and a half days in a studio recording the audio book. “That was quite an experience because I have never liked my speaking voice. I always feel like when I hear myself that I sound like Barry White.”

As for the song that led to the book and became the diva’s signature tune, Gaynor recalls that “I Will Survive” was originally released as the B-side of a song called “Substitute.” The writing-producing team of Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris had a conversation with Gaynor about lyrics, subject matter and emotional connections. That’s when they realized she should record “I Will Survive,” a song they had written a couple of years earlier. “I read the lyrics and I said, ‘Are you stupid? You’re going to put this on the B-side?’ I immediately recognized that it was a timeless song.”

After the record label, Polydor, released “Substitute,” Gaynor and her management team came up with an idea. “We took ‘I Will Survive’ to a DJ at Studio 54. We knew he was very popular and if his audience liked that song, we were right that it was a hit. Sure enough, they loved it immediately and we gave them a stack of them. He gave them to his DJ friends around New York. They began to play it and people began to request it. Then they began to call radio stations and request the song so the stations had to call the record company and say ‘Where is this song we keeping getting requests for?’ The label had to say, ‘You’ve already got it. It's on the B-side.”

Since “I Will Survive” topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979, Gaynor has been singing it at every live appearance she has made over the last 35 years. “First, I thought it was a motivator and then I discovered that it was an encourager and an uplifter and it inspires. And now I find that it empowers. Every so often I learn something new about it and not only that, it does all of these things for me. Right after I got divorced, I did a marathon version of it at a concert because the minute I started singing it, I began to relate to it and I couldn't stop singing because I felt like I was getting stronger and stronger. And I realized the depth of the inspiration and the encouragement that the song brings to people.”

Twitter: @fredbronson

Stephanie Gold