Donna Summer says her work comes alive when she pretends to be someone else.
"I take on a character in my mind. I sing on the microphone, someone plays the music, and the words fall into place. My better songs have come out of the actor in me. I'll sing to the place where I tap into a young woman's expression. She could be 18, 25 or 3," Summer said.
Summer rose to fame as a Broadway performer and disco chanteuse. She is also known for bidding the glittery lifestyle goodbye with her farewell lullaby "Last Dance" in the 1978 film Thank God It's Friday.
Tonight, she plans to charm the audience at Dodge Arena by performing her hits the way that they were originally arranged.
"I do this because when I go see the Eagles, I want to see them sing the song the way I remember it," Summer said.
Summer admits that she is high-strung on stage, but she's no diva. She doesn't even like to say the word because it's overused.
"People don't realize that I'm down to earth," she said. "If they saw me in my jogging pants, on my knees in the garden, they'd say, Donna Summer?' "
She reinvented her image in the 1980s, trading glittery frocks for a waitress outfit pink enough for an episode of Alice. She also sang electric anthems "State of Independence" and "She Works Hard for the Money" for young, independent women.
Summer embraced her roots with danceable love songs in the 1990s, laying the groundwork for techno music with European synthesizers used as the backdrop for her sound through her career.
She credits her adaptability to keeping her eyes and ears open to life's possibilities."
Unlike other career acts, Summer says she doesn't get bored rehashing her hit parade.
"I'm blessed because I have quite a few songs to sing of my own. I try to add three to four songs in the show that I don't normally do so the audience can see me singing something else," Summer said.
Summer, 56, began touring when she was 17. She is happiest when she is feeling nomadic and touring.
"There are people who don't like to leave home at all. I'm not one of them. If you challenge me with a new place and something exciting, it better not be a joke; I'll go. I'd rather do something than sit on my butt," Summer said. "It's what I do. I sing. I hadn't sung on tour in America for a long time. I felt like it was time to tour again."
This time she will not be the girl she was when she hit the road or the young woman writing about the struggles of early adulthood, she will be touring to meet people, to see how they live and to impart her wisdom.
"I want to share what I learned. The most important thing is trying to keep your feet on the ground and staying focused on the purpose of your life without getting distracted. I try to stay focused on my gift no matter what goes on. You have to love what you do. Life will take you. There are times when you are out of sync with others, but if you stay focused you will come back around."
Summer returned to the stage with 11 dates in Florida this spring. This tour is different for Summer because she's playing secondary markets that her busy touring schedule didn't permit when she was flipping hits like hot cakes.
"I was fortunate to be born at the right moment," Summer said of her life in music. "I'm getting enough of the past, and I'm still young enough to appreciate the newness of what is coming and still find myself on the cutting edge of things."
On Aug. 3, Summer has a little ditty called "Got Your Love" coming out on iTunes, Apple's online music store.
She calls the song a ditty because "it's up, happy, fun," she said.
Summer also plans to put out a cover album of "songs that have been in my heart for my lifetime," she said. "I will try to do them the way they live in me. I'm not a person who needs to prove I can sing. I'm an actress who is trying to explain something about singing. I've never been able to explain it. It's my approach."