LISTEN TO SIENA YATES TALK WITH ANDREW DICKENS ABOVE
Seeing Celine Dion live was nothing short of a religious experience - or at least, that's the phrase that was on many fans' lips as the iconic singer took to the stage.
Spark Arena was packed full of thousands of fans, warmed up by impressionist Veronic DiClaire, whose renditions of hits by the likes of Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera earned her a standing ovation and raucous applause.
But when Celine took to the stage in a golden suit, silhouetted in a single spotlight for her opener The Power of Love, the entire mood shifted.
Religious experience or not, people certainly started acting like we were in church, raising and waving their hands as she hit one power note after the next with ease. As she spoke, fans shouted "yes Celine!" like they were supporting a passionate preacher.
And boy did she preach; at one point she gave what must have been a 10-minute monologue about Ryan Reynolds which was utterly nonsensical in the most endearing way. She also spoke at length about her children, her late husband and her tour, and about her long absence from New Zealand.
"Well, we made it. We made it back here and it feels so amazing. I cannot believe it's been 22 years since our last trip in New Zealand...way too long," she said.
"That's unacceptable, I'm sorry. I'm so happy to be back. Tonight, what do you say we make up for all that lost time?"
She sure as hell gave it her best shot, launching into a set-list full of iconic hits including It's All Coming Back to Me Now, Because You Loved Me (complete with audience sing along), Beauty and the Beast (with stunning duet partner Barnev Valsaint) and Ashes (from the Deadpool 2 soundtrack). The latter won extra applause when Kiwi star Julian Dennison appeared on the massive screen behind Celine.
But it wasn't just her own hits, the superstar and her band covered artists from John Farnham to Prince to Bruno Mars, even doing a Tina Turner shimmy during a cover of River Deep, Mountain High.
Even while speaking she would throw in musical asides, like a brief cover of Rihanna's Work or singing "Auckland is on fire" to the tune of Alicia Keys' Girl on Fire.
A highlight - if you can even pick just one - was a pared-back acoustic performance with her string quartet, and of course, her encore; a stunning and flawless rendition of My Heart Will Go On for which we all stood as if for the national anthem.
Celine is an extraordinary powerhouse, an incredible entertainer and one of the most genuine artists I've seen take the stage, even when she's so obviously showing off - and why shouldn't she?
She didn't miss a beat or flub a note and she made it all look effortless. Everything from her band to her wardrobe to her set, visuals and lighting were world class.
As the packed out crowd stood and cheered at the end of the show, Celine looked genuinely awed, shaking her head and covering her face as if she may cry. Around me, people were already in tears.
"I'm sorry that it took me 22 years to come back...I hope it never happens again because what you gave tonight, we are going home with this in [our hearts]. We will never forget what you gave to us...thank you so very much," she said.
Celine Dion will play two more shows on Sunday and Tuesday at Auckland's Spark Arena, marking the end of her world tour.