LOS ANGELES — Dionne Warwick hit the top of the charts in 1985 alongside Steve Wonder, Elton John and Gladys Knight with “That’s What Friends Are For,” a rousing ode to friendship. One of the key lines of the song spoke of sticking together “through the good times and the bad times.”
But some fans of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” feel the legendary songstress may be singing a different tune these days, given her “firing” following several tense moments in the most recent installment of the reality show, which pits celebrities against one another as they play for their respective charities.
Donald Trump appeared irritated with Warwick (“You did the wrong thing”) when she challenged him to fire her after several teammates criticized her. Instead of exiting quietly, Warwick confronted startled “project manager” NeNe Leakes (“The Real Housewives of Atlanta”), calling her “a coward.”
TV Guide labeled Warwick “a bully” while the Radar OnLine website said she “acted like a petulant child.”
“Celebrity Apprentice” may have pulled a reverse whammy on Warwick. While several former participants such as Piers Morgan, Bret Michaels, Holly Robinson Peete and Joan Rivers have received boosts in their careers, some observers have speculated on whether Warwick may have tarnished her treasured legacy with her stint on the series.
Don’t even think of suggesting that to Warwick, who is celebrating he 50th year in show business with a new CD of Sammy Cahn standards, “Only Trust Your Heart,” and her memoir, “My Life as I See It.”
Summing up her experience on the show as “in a word, interesting,” Warwick in a phone interview said that she didn’t feel her reputation was damaged, and that her only regret was not winnng any money for her charity, the Hunger Project.
“My legacy has already been built,” Warwick said. “This show didn’t do anything but give me airtime. It didn’t hurt me whatsoever.” As for younger viewers who may be less familiar with Warwick, “there’s this silly thing called a computer. There’s too much information on what I’ve done and will continue to do.”
Indeed, Warwick’s huge list of hits, including “Alfie,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Then Came You,” “Walk On By, “Heartbreaker” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” securely places her among popular music’s most enduring giants. Even the controversy during the 1990s surrounding her association with the Psychic Friends Network is mostly forgotten.
But Warwick made it clear during the first episodes of “Celebrity Apprentice” that even among outsized personalities such as Leakes, LaToya Jackson, fallen TV talk-show host Star Jones and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, she was not going to be a shrinking violet. At one point, she called herself “the matriarch” of the female team.
“Most of the women there I didn’t know beforehand,” Warwick said. “The only ones I knew were Star and LaToya. The others were kind of alien to me. My persona is what it is. I needed to let them know if you stepped on this big toe, I will say ‘Ouch.’ That should have been clear from the get-go. I will not bite my tongue.”
In the first few episodes, Warwick was shown clashing with Matlin and supermodel Niki Taylor. She was also depicted as having difficulty with various tasks such as working a cash register, and also not being as energetic as other team members.
The singer said the depiction of her in the show “was not accurate. But it’s their show.”
In the most recent episode, the two teams were pitted against each other in making a commercial for ACN, a global communications company. When it came time to edit the commercial, Warwick indicated she wanted to go rest instead of staying to assist in the editing bay.
Said Warwick: “We had finished everything and there was no reason for me to stay. The team leader was there to do what needed to be done. I asked her if it was OK for me to go back to the hotel, and she said yes. “
During the boardroom discussion, Leakes told Trump that Warwick told her she was leaving.
“For her to deny I had asked her really got under my skin,” Warwick said. “She had to lie.”
When other team members also turned on her, Warwick decided to leave: “I felt like we were going down a road I wasn’t used to traveling. It was about dignity, and I decided to fire myself. It was getting to the point where this 50-year-old career would have been in jeopardy, and I was not going to let that be tampered with. It was best for those ladies to do what they do and leave me out of it.”
Despite her run-ins, Warwick said she is looking forward to reuniting with the cast in the season finale.
“I’m sure it will be a completely positive experience,” Warwick said.