This article will be a novel. I can feel it already.
Many of us were introduced to Michael Jackson and Madonna and Prince and Whitney Houston in the 80s – remarkable, iconic artists who totally changed the game. It’s a cliché these days, and even more so in the wake of MJ’s death, but they really don’t make them like they used to anymore.
She had it rough, of her own doing, but that doesn’t change the fact that Whitney Houston is a global superstar. And, in light of all the reality sh-ts running around these days, and the two bit JailBaits who can sign a record deal, we are desperately missing the global superstar.
So yeah, it was a big deal last night. I knew it was a big deal when I was given the assignment. It became a bigger deal as soon as I saw Diane Sawyer and Gayle King standing around waiting to go into the session. Then Martha Stewart walked in. Then Whitney’s family walked in, including her mother and Dionne Warwick, and many of the industry’s most powerful players. They all came to support the Comeback.
It started with a cocktail hour. And sangria was one of the options. This is not particularly relevant to the story but it was peach and delicious and refreshing and I’ve decided I don’t drink it enough.
Anyway, they were playing her classics in the bar area. I’m Your Baby Tonight. How Will I Know. I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Saving All My Love. Three black sheets were hanging from the ceiling, backlit with some of her most famous lyrics.
Diane and Gayle stood under the best light and chatted animatedly. Diane Sawyer is GORGEOUS. Gayle King has terrible hair. Martha Stewart walked around with her own camera, taking photos like a fan and giggling. It was adorable.
Then we were invited inside the auditorium.
Jazz at Lincoln Centre is spectacular. Seats about 200 – 250 people, semi circle facing a simple stage and podium, backed by a windowed wall overlooking the park – an incredible view. Three large monitors were raised on either side and the middle showing Whitney’s new album cover (hate it).
The first 3 rows were blocked off for VIP. Gayle King had the best seat in the house. The Opes was there in spirit, I guess. Diane Sawyer was 3 over from her. Whitney’s mom was behind them beside Dionne Warwick. In the third row…well hello Alicia Keys.
The energy was electric.
So then there’s a hush. And Clive Davis comes out. Standing ovation.
Clive Davis is one of the architects of the recording industry. He’s working with some of today’s top hitmakers. But Whitney is his girl. And this is what’s so moving about it all. Because he waited for her to sort herself out, and he never stopped believing in her, and when she was ready he busted his ass to make sure she could rise again – the devotion they have for each other, the commitment they share, that kind of loyalty in a business full of backstabbers… I am not an overly emotional person but the way Clive talks about her, the way he would point his finger to the sky when she’d hit a high note during the listening session, as if to say “can you hear that voice! You need to hear this voice! You need to worship this voice!” I had a lump in my throat the entire time.
Clive explained that this album I Look To You was 3 years in the making. He said that it was a return to what Whitney stands for – great songwriting and vocals the way only she can deliver. He dismissed much of the current riffraff heard on the radio – “will you know Flo-rida in 10 years like you know Greatest Love of All?” Heh.
There were 9 songs played last night. The tracks are still a work in progress, the last one was just recorded the night before. Clive said repeatedly that they haven’t decided on the first single. But the first they played was written and produced by Alicia Keys called Million Dollar Bill.
So Clive ordered that the scrim be lowered to make sure everyone was listening and not watching the park, and turned up Whitney singing Alicia’s song, and it’s a hype jam, and people started grooving, and then Alicia f-cking Keys got up OUT OF HER SEAT, waving her iPhone around recording the moment, singing, dancing in the aisle, fist pumping for Whitney like it was the happiest moment of her life, more excited for Whitney than she may ever have been for herself, encouraging other people to get up and dance, like Diane Sawyer who started bopping her head and throwing her head back laughing, and there’s Martha Stewart fangirling over it all with her camera, clapping and hopping around in her seat…
And Clive Davis, who is like 800 years old, who had to be assisted onto the stage, and who had a chair set up behind the podium for him to rest during songs, was CHAIR DANCING to the beat. He could do the motorcycle better than Tom Cruise. Cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
As for those of you wondering about her voice – there is a raspy quality to it, particularly apparent in the ballad you’ve already heard I Didn’t Know My Own Strength (written by Diane Warren), but it works. She sounds good. She sounds strong. She sounds like she’s enjoying it.
The songs themselves? Million Dollar Bill is great. And R Kelly wrote a sex groove for her called Worth It that I can’t wait to listen to over and over again. Everything else is solid though not super exciting. Would have expected a few more ballads. But they’re still four songs from done and they threw in a surprise cover track that had the crowd erupting. I won’t spoil it for you.
But Clive does know about theatrics. Because that was the final song of the night and as Whitney’s voice soared on a high note, the scrim was lifted, opening up the window view to the park, and out she came, skipping across the stage in her heels, almost nervously, with her arms wide open to greet her mentor, and they shared a knowing look, and she kinda nodded for approval, and he hugged her, and she turned back to the audience hopefully, like she really, really wanted us to love her again. And then she saw her mom, so she stepped down to embrace her family, but Diane Sawyer was in the way, which means the first person she hugged was Diane (?) and then a long, long moment with mom and Dionne, who held her face in her hands and shook it gently with pride.
Whitney was wearing a slick black tight shiny dress, long sleeves, knee length, looked fit and fresh. And her classic hair: short bob at the ears and curly.
When the applause and screaming finally died down, Whitney took the mic and talked about wanting to live on an island and go away but Clive wouldn’t let her. Remember her crack is wack interview voice? That whisper? The hoarseness? All that is gone. She speaks clearly now. (But I totally watched that on YouTube last night because…admit it… it was amazing).
Whitney then went on to explain that her momma complained that there was nothing to listen to on the radio anymore. And so the urge came back. But it took them a long time because she had to feel the music. And they had to find the music. As soon as she found the music she said it was like 25 years ago all over again.
She was very, very thankful. She was very, very gracious. And lucid. Yes. Whitney Houston is lucid.
And her album comes out on September 1st. And this is a diva worthy of your support. How many more Whitneys will there be?
Photos from Kevin Mazur/Wireimage