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Whitney Houston wants back in the diva game. The singer is granting her first public interview since the legendary 2002 "crack is whack" tete-a-tete with Diane Sawyer when she sits on Oprah Winfrey’s couch for the talk-show host’s season 24 premiere on Sept. 14. And her new album, I Look to You, is her first in seven years.
Just days after Whitney's Oprah appearance, Mariah Carey -- she of the most No. 1 singles of any solo artist in the United States (yes, more than Elvis) and her own history with the odd public meltdown (TRL striptease, anyone?) -- is also going to head to perform on the talk show and even posted about it on Twitter. "Rehearsing for these shows! Can't wait to see as many of you as possible!" she Tweeted.
But tongues wagged when Mariah reshuffled the release date of her new album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, to Sept. 29 but the first single from Memoirs, “Obsessed,” did crack Billboard's Top 10. Whitney's first single didn't fare nearly as well as Mariah’s: The song "I Look to You" barely clawed its way into Billboard's Hot 100, though the well-reviewed album debuted at the top spot when it was released Aug. 31. Advantage Whitney?
At Whitney's first public performance of her new songs in Central Park during a Sept. 1 Good Morning America taping, her voice sounded harsh and cracked repeatedly. She apologized with the excuse that gabbing with Oprah during the taping of their interview had worn out her instrument. Advantage Mimi, then?
Not so fast. On Mariah's current single, "Obsessed," she sounds irritable. "Why are you so obsessed with me?" she asks. "Lying that you're sexing me ... Finally found a girl you couldn't impress." And in the video, Carey dresses up as someone who looks very much like Eminem -- a possible retaliatory slap after the rapper claimed to have had sex with her. (Her husband, self-described “cornball” Nick Cannon, suggested on his blog that Slim Shady probably just needs a hug.) Eminem hit back in July with another rap, "The Warning," in which he asks "Mariah, it ever occur to you that I still have pictures?" This is all good for grabbing headlines and Twitter feeds, but it's hardly diva behavior. Whitney -- now single after a long-embarrassing marriage to singer Bobby Brown and armed with new overcoming-adversity ballads -- comes out looking like the grown-up for a change. Advantage Whitney?
Of course, the whole idea of pitting these two larger-than-life women against each other in some Ultimate Fighting Diva Cage Match, while fun, is demeaning. Whitney's astonishing arrival in the music world in 1985 (Whitney Houston is the best-selling debut ever by a female artist and the first to debut at No. 1) made Carey's career possible. And Carey has been careful to respect her elders. The two even recorded the song "When You Believe" together in 1998 for The Prince of Egypt soundtrack, and shared an Oscar for it. In turn they influenced an entire generation of warbling American Idol over-singers.
But these are two singers who know that the way to stay relevant is recruit hot collaborators. Both Whitney and Mariah tapped the talents of "Tricky" Stewart who, along with The-Dream, half of the team behind Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" and Rihanna's "Umbrella," both monster hits. If a diva is going to stay a diva, she's going to need to grow and adapt. On that count alone, let's call it a draw.