Photo Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images
This morning, the American public was treated to Whitney Houston's first televised performance in seven years, courtesy of Good Morning America. Houston sang four songs—"My Love Is Your Love," "I Look to You," "I'm Every Woman," and her new Alicia Keys-penned single, "Million Dollar Bill"—for a hugely appreciative crowd in New York's Central Park.
How'd the comeback queen do? Depends on your point of view. If you compare her to the scary-skinny wraith who sang at Madison Square Garden in 2001, then she was fantastic. More to the point, she looked fantastic. Houston was toned and fit, positively glowing with that signature toothy smile, as she sprang onto the stage and blew kisses to the crowd. She even hugged Diane Sawyer and brought her daughter Bobbi Kristina up for a song!
But. Sigh. If you compare Houston to the golden-voiced woman who could hold that note on "I Will Always Love You" long enough to make a trip to the bathroom and back, then she was in trouble. Houston appeared noticeably out of breath, and resorted to speaking instead of singing some of her lyrics. On her new power ballad, "I Look to You," her voice cracked and wobbled on the top notes. Houston acknowledged the rough spots, blaming her strained voice on taping an Oprah appearance the day before. Some industry insiders wonder if her uneven performance bodes ill for Houston's ability to sell and promote her new album, I Look to You, which released this week. Can the 46-year-old diva ever really bounce back?
Give the lady a break! Singers' voices are fine-tuned instruments—yours might be rusty if you took a seven-year break, too. Moreover, artists' voices change as they age. She's not a machine, beloved only as long as she can belt out the big numbers. Think of Billie Holiday, whose voice grew rougher and craggier as her career wore on. It's Holiday's later recordings that are considered the best for their raw emotion and sorrow. Holiday had seen some dark things, and by now Houston has seen her share, as well. Perhaps this comeback will show us a new Houston—with a new voice, imperfect but with a new depth of feeling—whom we can love just as much.