Going for the gold

"Dreamgirls'" Oscar hopes might be derailed if Diana Ross denounces the film. (David James)

The Oscar race for best picture may come down to what just one academy member thinks of one film.

If "Dreamgirls" is truly the best-picture frontrunner, as many pundits claim, this year's biggest awards cliffhanger may be the answer to this question: Will Diana Ross, the original Dreamgirl, finally embrace the fictionalized story of her career 25 years after it debuted on Broadway or, now that it's immortalized on film, publicly disapprove and turn on it like a true diva?

If the latter, "Dreamgirls" could face an Oscar nightmare and there could be an uproar in the best picture race not seen since director Ron Howard got caught sugar-coating the real-life story behind "A Beautiful Mind."

Some sources insist that Miss Ross -- as she likes to be called -- has finally accepted the show that may define her career, so much so that she, secretly, inquired about securing a role in the "Dreamgirls" film, but scoffed when all she was offered was a cameo as her own mom.

A longtime friend and colleague disagrees. While conceding that Miss Ross may briefly have flirted with the if-you-can't-beat-them-join-them approach, he says, "She hates 'Dreamgirls' because she feels like she's been ripped off, like its creators changed just enough key elements of her story so they didn't have to pay her royalties and then refused to give her any input on how her story would be told."

But that's showbiz, others say, and Ross is savvy about how it works.

J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of "Call Her Miss Ross," adds: "I think that Diana has decided that there's not much she can do about this and she wisely knows that there wasn't much Billie Holliday's estate could do about her when she did 'Lady Sings the Blues,'" a film that resulted in Miss Ross being Oscar nominated for best actress in 1972.

However, Miss Ross has taken digs at the Broadway show in the past, once telling the New York Times, ''The truth is that no one asked me for my permission, my involvement or anything. And though I'm happy that the girls in it are doing so well, I hope it's not a ripoff. I don't want people to walk away thinking it's the truth because I don't think they know what the truth is.''

But there's reason to believe she's mellowed since those words were uttered seven months after "Dreamgirls" debuted on Broadway. One year later she performed one of its songs, "Family," at her concert in Central Park.

There are conflicting reports about whether she ever saw one of "Dreamgirls'" 1,522 performances on Broadway or even half of one.

Now, the next plot twist: Will she attend the movie's premiere when it opens in December?

Her former Supremes singing partner Mary Wilson plans to be there, which may be another reason Diana may wish to dodge it. The two divas have feuded for years.

Or will Ross publicly oppose the movie?

If she does, and her disapproval is expressed passionately or, worse, with outrage, she could hurt it financially and even derail its Oscar hopes. Or will she be neutral and remain quiet about it?

Twice "The Envelope" asked these questions of Miss Ross in emails that were forwarded to her by her agent, but she did not respond. A message requesting comment about the film was left on her home business phone, but the call was not returned.

Whether she ever attended a full performance of "Dreamgirls" on Broadway is a fascinating mystery. She maintains she did not, often telling the press, "I didn't want to validate it in that way."

But some sources say she snuck up to a side balcony of the Imperial Theatre one night where she watched the show, unseen by the masses below. Another oft-repeated account claims she attended just the first act, then, horrified, stormed out at intermission.

"I think it would be very hard for Diana to resist seeing it," says Taraborrelli. "It's likely that she did sneak in and take a look at it. It's also likely, if that did happen, she would not have made a spectacle rushing out during intermission. But, officially, she maintains that she did not see it."

For the most part she's remained mum about her displeasure over the stage show since she's had close personal ties with people associated with it -- most notably, one of its original producers, David Geffen, who is now chief producer of the film.