By Jeff Balke
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"Are you kiddin' me?" says the burly man in disgust as he stands with his wife outside Warehouse Live on a drizzly Friday night. "Dilana? Sold out? I used to see that girl in..."
"I'm sorry sir," says the doorman. "But yeah, it's sold out. You could try a scalper."
"A scalper?" The man heads back to the parking lot muttering to his wife about how far he had to drive. "You hear that? A scalper for her!?"
Yeah, for her. Inside, Dilana Robichaux -- known to fans worldwide as simply Dilana -- is stomping on the Warehouse Live stage as if it's on fire. She's just burned through her most recent single, "Holiday," which will appear on the album she's releasing this summer. Next is a frenzied cover of Tracy Bonham's "Mother, Mother," a song that she nailed on Rock Star: Supernova, the CBS reality series that gave her an instant springboard to national and international attention. The piercings below her bottom lip look like they might pop out. Her hair is a fireball of purple, pink and red strands, and she shakes it like she's knocking dust off a broom. There's not a speaker that she won't pounce on like a cat on meth.
Dilana, 34, was the runner-up on Rock Star, coming this close to fronting Tommy Lee's band. And now the former Houstonian is home, playing to a packed crowd estimated to be 1,700 strong -- though the way they're screaming, it sounds more like 17,000. "I have been so damn nervous about this gig," she tells them breathlessly after a number. "I promise you, I'm gonna rock the S-H-I-T out of this show." She then proceeds to play new material and covers of Johnny Cash, The Police and even Britney. She grabs a scarf that a fan threw on stage. "Thanks, this is exactly what I needed," she says, then uses it to rub down her armpits.
The ballsy, brash singer has had to learn that success means sometimes having to piss some people off. She did it famously on Rock Star. A fan favorite from the first time she hit the stage, she wowed the boys' club that was Supernova (Lee, Gilbey Clarke and Jason Newsted) and host/executive producer Dave Navarro. She unleashed a fury of hair and her Michael Jordan-esque tongue on numbers like Nirvana's "Lithium." And she got the "aww" response with her acoustic version of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." Clarke said that after watching her, there was "no question a woman can front this band." She was an instant media darling, and the only real challenger to Canadian singer Lukas Rossi, a hipster who looks like an anime character come to life.
But then came some ill-timed, cleverly edited comments about fellow cast members, shown in mini-segments to live and TV audiences at each performance, and the subsequent fabricated reality drama. Suddenly Dilana was getting booed, getting dissed by Navarro and getting a little crazy at the house. She broke a glass when producers denied her a chance to call a friend. "As soon as I walked away, they called the cameras to follow me -- they were waiting for a meltdown," she says. And they got one. A piece of glass hit cast member Magni çsgeirsson in the head, causing him to bleed. It played out like an ER episode, and suddenly, Dilana was branded a wild woman.
She laughs about those drama days as she sits with some close friends before the Warehouse gig at the Prime Time Steakhouse off of 1960. The restaurant, where she performed every Tuesday for a year, has opened early for her entourage, which includes middle-aged couples, some teens, a youngish woman in a bandana named Tabitha and two guys in wheelchairs, Brandon and Ronnie. "This is my crew," she says, "and I needed to be with them."
Dilana has a lot of people to please. Last night here at Prime Time, she says, a fan from the old days asked her for a picture. "I told him I had to go to the loo, and I'd be right back. But when I came out, I totally forgot and started jamming with the band. Then I saw them and apologized. The guy handed me a card, and on the back it said, 'Thanks for the picture, super star.' I apologized, and he said, 'Well, you're a superstar now, aren't you? You forget about your friends.'"
Dickie Robichaux chuckles at the idea that Dilana forgets friends. "I don't think I know anyone who cares more about people than her," he says. "See her?" he says, pointing to Tabitha. "Dilana heard that she had cancer and invited her to join her tour. What's that tell you?"
Houstonians who claim Dilana as their own have Dickie, an executive for a "major oil company," to thank. In 1997, Dickie met Dilana, who was born in South Africa, while working in Holland. "I had no idea she was a performer, I just knew she had this incredible magnetism," he says. Dilana's wildly popular (in Holland) cover band got signed to a label, and soon, she exploded in Europe. "We couldn't take public transportation," Dickie recalls.