Lynda Carter peers at the ultrasleek stereo in her hotel room, trying to find the right button – any button, really – that will get it to accept her CD.
“Now, where would Play be?” she asks.
“Is it Enter?” she wonders. “That’s not it.”
“CD? Does that say CD?”
Carter played Wonder Woman on television, someone who stopped bullets with her bracelets or hopped in an invisible plane. On this day, she’s more human – more alter ego Diana Prince – stumped by an unfamiliar stereo.
But not for long.
“OK!” she says with delight as the right button is pressed and the squeal of a saxophone signals the beginning of Sam Cooke’s torch song “You Send Me.”
The voice that emerges, though, isn’t Cooke’s. It’s Carter’s. And, while walking over to a sofa, she can’t help but sing along with herself, a grin plastered to her face.
“I didn’t realize how much I missed music until I came back,” she says, her tall frame swaying. “It’s just a blast. It’s so much fun.”
That’s right: Long before she donned her famous star-spangled one-piece, Carter was a singer. She’s getting back to it now with a new CD and a cabaret tour, proving that the 57-year-old is still something of a wonder woman.
“She’s really a very incredibly talented singer,” says drummer Paul Leim, the leader of her band who has worked with Carter since her “Wonder Woman” days and also with the likes of Lionel Richie, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers and Faith Hill.
“Hopefully, everybody will get a chance to experience the real Lynda Carter instead of the actress from the cartoon,” says Leim by phone from Nashville, Tenn.
The album contains covers of standards like “Cry Me a River,” “Blues in the Night” and “Summertime,” as well as playful torch songs such as “Million Dollar Secret.”
Carter even covers the Etta James’ classic “At Last,” a song that also lends the CD its name. “It was ‘At Last’ for a long time before I knew it was the president’s dancing song,” she says, slightly chagrined.
Listeners might be startled at the strength of her voice and the soulful colouring of her songs, backed by top-notch studio musicians.
“I don’t think I work for surprise, but I think I’m surprising,” she says.
Carter has lost little of her head-turning looks. On this day, she wears a short embroidered jacket, tight silk shirt and black leggings, a look few women decades her junior could pull off as well.
Besides being a powerful charity fundraiser, she turns out to be a news junkie, able to talk about presidential line-item vetoes or Tom Daschle with ease. She also embraces her inner goofball.
“I’m really kind of a corny person,” she says. “I think I am so funny. I do – I crack myself up. I consistently, at least according to my children, make a fool of myself. I am a completely flawed person. It is what it is. I’m happy with it.”
She’ll be appearing this month on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard and then at Lincoln Center in New York. In April, there’s a fundraiser in Washington and a one-night stand in Modesto, Calif. And, in June, she’ll be at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
“I like to make people laugh and feel comfortable with me,” she says. “I work just as hard for 100 people as I do for 1,500 people. They deserve it.”
Carter, who grew up in Phoenix, got her first professional singing job at 14. At 17, she was on the road, playing the Catskills, clubs in the Reno-Tahoe area, and made her debut at the Sahara Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas in a band called The Garfin Gathering.
“I thought I was living the dream. Being paid to sing was unbelievable for me. When being paid to sing no longer felt right, that’s when I quit,” she says.
She won the Miss World-USA title in 1972 and four years later landed the iconic role of Wonder Woman, which she played until 1979. She says its success was due less to the skimpy outfit than her focus on making Diana Prince feel real.
“People forget that I spent most of the time on television playing an alter ego,” she says. “That’s how I allowed people to really understand her.”
Carter, who released her first album in 1978 and sang in several prime-time specials in the 1980s, has returned to performing of late, as her two children with her second husband, lawyer Robert Altman, become young adults. She’s appeared in “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Sky High” and the TV series “Smallville.”
She recently played a sociopath on “Law & Order” and loved it. “People like me don’t get those opportunities very often,” she says. “My daughter called it creepy. So I thought I’d hit a home run.”
Carter returned to singing and performing in 2005 in a London performance of “Chicago,” and a year later was part of the musical’s 10th anniversary show on Broadway.
She dipped her toe in cabaret in 2007, playing small venues in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Leim is working on a live CD of a show that she did in front of a nine-piece band at Harrah’s Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
Despite the new work, she knows that she’ll never fully escape the legacy of Wonder Woman. Perhaps only when someone new steps into her old suit.
“It needs to be done again,” she says. “I think they should. I’m the first one to pass that baton and I hope it makes a bizzilion dollars.”
On the Net: http://www.lyndacartersings.com