Essence Festival Day 2: Charlie Wilson and Mariah Carey Bring Heat, Oprah Recites Maya Angelou & More
It was a scorcher in New Orleans Saturday (July 2) -- 96 degrees, plus the humidity -- but inside the breezy A/C at New Orleans’s Superdome and Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, most of the heat was onstage: a last-minute appearance by Oprah had the convention center at capacity, while headliners Charlie Wilson and Mariah Carey brought equal amounts costume changes and vocal fireworks.
Below are a few highlights of Day 2 of the Essence Festival -- well, save about five iced coffees, spaced evenly throughout.
1:31 p.m.: “If R&B were dead, love would be dead,” Jidenna said definitively at a Grammy “conversation” on the intersection between hip-hop and R&B, which soon evolved into an IRL version of the Internet’s favorite game: classic or trash? Per the panel -- which included Jidenna, as well as Faith Evans, Apple Music’s Carl Chery, and Motown and UMPG’s Ethiopia Habtemariam -- Kendrick Lamar has a few of the former on his hands with good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Habtemariam insisted, “If you have Kendrick, you’ve gotta have [J.] Cole.”
1:45 p.m.: Ne-Yo gave the people what they wanted during his quick onstage interview: Beyonce. The hitmaker told the crowd about how “Irreplaceable” was inspired by his aunt kicking out a no-good guy. One day when he asked, “Where's my leather jacket?” Ne-Yo’s aunt pointed to a box of his things and responded, “It’s to the left” -- birthing the line that became Bey’s irresistible refrain. Naturally, he couldn’t help but sing a few bars of his 2008 hit “Miss Independent” before leaving the stage.
2:00 p.m.: Tyrese had missed his festival set Friday night (July 1) after being stuck on a totally different kind of set -- namely, the Atlanta shoot for Furious 8. He still made it to New Orleans though, thanks to, per Instagram, a ride on his costar Ludacris’s private jet -- to serenade an enormous crowd at the Cola-Cola stage with hits like “Shame on Me” and a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
4:35 p.m.: Oprah began her Essence Festival talk with a moving, perfect recitation of the late Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman,” but the D.J.’s warm-up was even more of a surprise. Running through the very best of Bay Boy Records, he had the star-studded crowd on their feet, including Oprah’s longtime partner Stedman Graham, who dragged Ava DuVernay into the aisle to break it down to Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize.” He wasn’t done, though. To the delight of the crowd, when Beyonce’s “Get Me Bodied” came on, it was Stedman who was doing an old-school dance.
7:06 p.m.: Estelle changed things up a little for her early set on the Essence main stage, bringing a little classic house with her song “Something Good,” which samples Crystal Waters’s 1991 single “Gypsy Woman.” In a sequined jumpsuit, she totally looked (and of course sounded) the part.
7:45 p.m.: Hip-hop and R&B hitmaker Jeremih sounded flawless during his main stage set, and the intimate crowd just made his crooning even more seductive. As he ran through all his hits -- of course “Don’t Tell ‘Em” and “Birthday Sex” shared the headlining spot -- in the context of the almost-entirely-R&B weekend, it was clear just how important he’s been in bringing something fresh to the genre.
8:17 p.m.: “I’ve never been to New Orleans before, and one of my biggest inspirations is Lil Wayne,” said U.K. MC Lady Leshurr, clearly a tiny bit nervous as a result. But once she locked in, over a freestyle on Nicki Minaj’s “Only,” Leshurr impressed the crowd with spitfire bars and stellar punchlines (“You want to win at Flappy Bird, and I want to win a Grammy,” anyone?).
10:42 p.m.: Charlie Wilson, whose hour and a half long set saw the legendary singer and songwriter make three costume changes (four if you count shedding a conductor’s cap after opening with “Party Train”) and do the original Running Man (no challenges here) at *least* twice, closed out with an a capella rendition of his 2013 Kanye West collaboration “Bound 2.” Really, after spanning three decades and preaching a veritable sermon during the gospel section, it was only right that he dropped the mic on his way off stage.
12:01 a.m.: After coming on stage to a video that summarized all her various Billboard chart accolades (!), it was only right that a resplendent Mariah Carey would run through hit, after hit, after hit, after hit. Her 1990 debut, “Vision of Love,” got one of the best responses from the crowd, as the indomitable singer found all corners of her range, even getting just the tiniest bit gospel with an organ breakdown. Clad in custom Louboutins (yes, she told us about them), Mariah proved that she’s still -- literally -- every inch a diva, with the chops to back it up.