Hello, is it him you're looking for? Richie, 62, tells EW about his new album of duets with country superstars, his upcoming TV talent show, and why they love him in Dubai

By Dave Karger
Updated April 06, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

You did a duet with Alabama 25 years ago. Have you been thinking about doing a country-leaning record like Tuskegee ever since?
I was country-leaning as far back as ”Easy Like Sunday Morning.” And Kenny Rogers sang [the Richie-penned’] ”Lady” — that was 22 million sold! I’ve been a member of the CMAs for a long time, and this gave me a chance to go, ”What else am I gonna do? I can’t rap, forget that. So where’s the next thing? Let’s step back into country.” And when I walked in the door, Nashville showed up.

One name that’s missing from the CBS concert special you’re doing on April 13 is Shania Twain. How will you use your magical powers to get her there?
Now, that is the $69 million question, because I know what it took to get her on the record. She is extremely, extremely shy. I’m using my powers, my friend — but let me just tell you, I may be losing part of my Afro trying to deal with this one.

You’ve been on American Idol, The Voice, and the Danish version of The X Factor. And this summer you’ll serve as a mentor on the new ABC reality show Duets, along with Kelly Clarkson, Robin Thicke, and Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles. Which of those shows would you have done the best on as a younger singer?
Are you kidding me? Lionel Richie trying to go out on stage and compete with someone who can belt songs? I can’t do what they do!

Is there a TV network you haven’t been on yet?
If you know me, the joke is if you see me on a cooking channel, it’s about how to survive ptomaine poisoning. Because I am not the cook — you don’t want me to. Me in the kitchen is only to ask, ”What’s for dinner?” But I don’t think I’ve been on HBO, and I’d love to do a concert special for them.

You’re huge in the Middle East. If you were to perform in Dubai, what would be the top song the crowd wants to hear?
In Dubai it’s either ”Hello” or ”All Night Long.” In China it’s ”Say You, Say Me.” In Britain it’s all the Commodores stuff. It’s crazy. I played Abu Dhabi one night and people told me, ”Don’t expect too much.” By the second song, I stopped and said, ”Is this Detroit?” Because they knew all the songs.

Of all the hits you’ve written or sung in your career, which one has made you the most money?
Wow. Oh, Jesus. Probably ”Lady”?

So do you have a car that ”Lady” bought or something?
I have an estate that ”Lady” bought.