There was more than a hint of disappointment on the faces of many listeners as Adele’s PBS documentary about her battle with cancer aired Wednesday.
There were already indications that the soulful singer was not eager to discuss some questions or divulge some details about her illness or recovery. Adele did reveal that she is planning to adopt a child, but then quickly added, “I am not pregnant.” And viewers heard her recall details of a particularly stressful day in the hospital, “And then all of the sudden I was in bed for 12 hours.”
That admission was especially frustrating to the many people outside of Adele’s circle who had wanted to learn more about her post-cancer travails. NBC, for instance, called in famed ballad writer Paul Simon to record a reworking of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” the Simon & Garfunkel song that a younger Adele once famously performed.
But nobody really cares about the soulful singer’s broader feelings. What everyone cares about is the person Adele, the singer, has become.
The episode’s central character was Oprah Winfrey, who decided that it would be more important to have an intimate, shared and moving conversation with Adele than with anyone else. That enabled Oprah to give the show the needed focus and drama. Her speed of delivery was both witty and straightforward, even if she did not weigh in on everything.
“Before I forget, I did create The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she told Adele. “When I started in daytime television, I wanted to break through and change the game, and I did.”
That brought to mind the interview by Winfrey with Rosie O’Donnell, another prominent figure, in 2004, almost exactly 11 years before they were reunited to make the greatest-hits album “Divine Intervention.” Adele, despite Winfrey’s appeal to history, declined to address O’Donnell’s personal issues.
Winfrey told Adele that part of the appeal of her and O’Donnell is their shared success and the way they seem to create a sustained path to success, even though they arrived at that success in entirely different ways. “We are both gutsy and strong as hell,” Winfrey said. “And our character traits can really resonate.”
Adele also appeared to completely welcome Winfrey’s attention, even if the conversation veered off script at several points. Adele seemed admiring of her. And, as Adele does, Winfrey did not raise the possibility of her or anyone else cheating on another.
But the one question that Adele refused to address was the event at which, after collapsing while on tour in South America, she was diagnosed with vocal cord surgery. Oprah, for her part, did not ask. Adele’s record label, RCA, might also be afraid to discuss a recurrent problem among performers.
“Let’s say we were good friends,” Winfrey said, thinking for a moment. “That could be like giving away your child.”
But after one of her other comments, Adele’s interest in that question faded, and the Oprah chat ended there.