Audrey Landers returns to “Dallas” tonight

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By JESSICA A. BOTELHO

 The multi-talented Audrey Landers, 56, secured the role as singer Afton Cooper on “Dallas” when she was 24-years-old, appearing in 84 episodes and a television movie. Now, she just released a new album and is reprising the part, with fans eagerly awaiting her comeback to the popular prime time drama tonight (March 25).

“It actually feels like going home,” she said of returning to the show, which first debuted on CBS in 1978 and went off the air in 1991. A revamped version premiered on TNT last year and is still going strong during its second season. “It’s almost as if no time has gone by. It was great reconnecting with cast members, and I love the way my character has developed.”

According to Landers, Afton, a nightclub singer, was a “19-year-old gold digger” who did the “dirty work” for J.R. Ewing, and then had an on-again, off-again romance with Cliff Barnes. The lovers share a child, Pamela Rebecca Barnes, now an adult played by actress Julie Gonzalo.

It’s no secret Afton’s relationship with her daughter hasn’t been perfect, but these days, said Landers, Afton is a strong and devoted mother, as Monday’s episode finds her rushing to a pregnant Pamela Rebecca’s bedside after an accident jeopardizes her unborn twins.

Aside from the drama, Afton is still singing, yet the extent of her career isn’t clear at this point.

“It’s evident in the new series that she’s self-confident and I like that about her,” Landers said. “She seems to have made a good life for herself. She’s no longer struggling and she married well. But you don’t know how much Afton is involved in all this. It’s going to be exciting to find out where Afton stands with all the business deals that are going on.”

One thing is for sure: the episode won’t include a reunion for Afton and Cliff.  It’s a bit of a bummer for Landers, as she was hoping to reunite with Ken Kercheval, who starred as Cliff in the original series. Still, she’s optimistic that writers and producers will include him in the script down the road.

“I hope that they don’t disappoint the audience in the future,” Landers said. “I think the audience is really asking for that reunion and I do believe the writers and producers respond to the fans, which is wonderful.”

Landers is referencing the fact that there was recently a Facebook movement to “Bring Audrey Landers Back to Dallas,” which she believes helped influence her return. She said she will be forever grateful for the support.

“I’m so touched by it,” she said. “The fact that they created the page is just so heartwarming and flattering. I appreciate it so much and I think it made a difference because they brought the character back. The producers look at that and they respect it. It’s very nice.”

Speaking of fans, many of them often ask her to release songs she performed – and wrote – on the original series. While her music never made much of a splash in America during the 1980s, Landers exploded as a singer and composer in Europe, earning 10 gold singles, four gold albums and two platinum albums. She’s taking another stab at it in the U.S. with “Dallas Feels Like Home,” her latest release, which debuted on iTunes Saturday, March 23rd.

“It has some of the country-style songs I sang on ‘Dallas,’ such as ‘Steal Me Away,’ and some of the other contemporary productions,” said Landers.  “And the liner notes have photos and the original sheet music I hand wrote in 1981.”

Additionally, she’s set to perform at a benefit concert with Shirley Jones, former star of the hit show “The Partridge Family,” April 26 at the International Ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Proceeds will be donated to the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, as well as the Women’s Center of Tarrant County-Rape Crisis/Victims Services. Landers will open the show as a tribute to the late Larry Hagman, who starred as the man everyone loved to hate, J.R. Ewing, on “Dallas.”

Landers fondly remembers working with Hagman in the original series, and said she’ll never forget her first day on set, during which she was filming an intimate scene with Hagman.

“I was a total newcomer – completely nervous and intimidated – and he was always a prankster,” she said. “We got under the covers, and as soon as they called action, Larry took a handful of ice then put his hands on me. I was trying to keep it together and show my professionalism, but finally the director called cut because the whole cast and crew was in on it. I think I disappointed them because I didn’t jump up and scream.”

As much fun as it is to reminisce, she also is pleased to work with the newer cast members, describing them as “terrific” actors. She spoke highly of the writers and producers , too, saying that she is thrilled that they are able to recreate the show in such a way that keeps the interest of the original fans, but is modern enough and relevant to “younger” viewers.

“We don’t have a lot like it for this generation, so for the new fans it’s sort of a new genre,” said Landers. “The writing is great and everything is fast-paced. I think everybody is ready for a show like this.”

She’s also ready to continue her stay with the show. If it gets renewed for a third season, she’s hoping to be back.

“There’s been talk about it,” Landers said. “That would be really fantastic. I love the character. She’s been a part of my life for decades.”

If that doesn’t happen, Landers has plenty to keep her busy. Aside from her own music career, she serves as manager for her singer-songwriter son, Daniel, 19, who is studying under the Bruce Hornsby Creative American Music Program at the University of Miami, and working on an album of his own.

“He’s a phenomenal songwriter and his musical range as a singer is amazing,” she said. “Guys don’t usually have three and a half or four octaves; he has an amazing pop-rock voice.”

Her son isn’t the only family member she’s working with: she recently co-created a fashion business, the Landers STAR Collection, with her mother Ruth. But the business partnership is nothing new, as Ruth once managed her daughter’s career.

“Every time I had to do a live performance, she was very much involved, especially with wardrobe,” Landers said of her mother. “So many people would often ask, ‘where did you get that dress?’ or ‘where can I get one like it?’ so we decided to create a line of affordable, glamorous clothes for women. Every woman is a star and she deserves to shine, so our fashions have a little glitz and bling here and there just to make you feel special.”

Landers likes making her fans feel special, and that’s one reason why she attends conventions, such as Chiller Theatre in New Jersey and The Hollywood Show in Los Angeles, to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans. She enjoys meeting fans in person, as well as interacting with them on social media outlets.

“It’s an awesome way to be able to have a personal connection to your fans,” she said. “You can connect with everybody from around the world, and I love being able to answer people when I can. Back in the day, we didn’t have Twitter and Facebook; we didn’t have that immediate response when the show was on air.”

She’s sure fans will take to Twitter to express their feelings about the upcoming episode and the fate of Pamela Rebecca’s twins by the end of the episode, as Landers will be live tweeting during the show under the tag name @AudreyLanders.

Until then, learn more about Landers and her projects at the following links: www.AudreyLanders.com; www.LandersStarCollection.com; http://www.landersproductions.com/; https://twitter.com/AudreyLanders; www.Youtube.com/DanielLandersVideos; www.DanielLandersOfficial.com; http://www.facebook.com/DanielLandersMusic; https://twitter.com/Daniel_Landers.

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