In From The Cold...

[From The Telegraph]

Whitney's bid to come in from the cold
(Filed: 10/12/2002)

The troubled pop diva returned to the stage at the weekend to prove she can still belt them out. Tim Geary reports from New York

The sight of a one-time drug user singing and dancing on a New York street is not one that turns many heads in this town. Then again, most of them don't sing and dance like Whitney Houston, who chose a cold Sunday afternoon in December to perform live, for the first time in a very eventful year, to a crowd of mostly loyal fans.

The event, staged by ABC television for its show Good Morning America, took place on a stage outside the Metropolitan Opera House. It was a fitting venue for a singer with an operatic set of lungs. Yet many in the crowd had come not to hear Whitney sing but to gawp at a celebrity whose bungee jump from the heights of pop superstardom has been on a particularly flimsy cord.

The past few years have not been kind to Whitney Houston. Renowned for cancelling concerts at the final hour, she was then publicly fired from one - the 2000 Academy Awards show - for allegedly being disorientated and confused in rehearsals.

Rumours of drug abuse caught fire after a Michael Jackson concert in September 2001: when it was broadcast, she appeared obviously underweight and unwell, despite digital retouching to add weight to her body and face. It is quite an achievement to appear freakish beside Michael Jackson, yet Whitney looked so ill that few people (save Ms Houston herself) were surprised by rumours that she had died soon afterwards.

The 39-year-old diva's appearance in New York may have been proof of her current vitality, but many questions remain. In an interview on prime-time television last week, the singer tried and failed to present herself as a healthy artist simply promoting a new CD, Just Whitney. Speaking in a husky voice she blamed on laryngitis, Whitney's answers to questions about her turbulent past did little to reassure those concerned about her present state.

In the hour-long interview, she admitted to abusing alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and pills, although she appeared deeply offended at the suggestion that she may have tried crack cocaine. "Crack is cheap. I make too much for me to ever smoke crack," she explained. "Let's get that straight, OK? I don't do crack. I don't do that. Crack is whack."

Asked, later, to comment on a headline that claimed she had a $730,000 drug habit, Whitney slipped by saying, "Seven thirty? I wish," before realising her mistake and adding, "No way. I want to see the receipts. From the drug dealer that I bought $730,000 worth of drugs from. I want to see receipts," as if receipts were handed out for cocaine.

Since the television interview left little doubt about Whitney's fragile grasp on reality, the question most people wanted answered in New York was whether she could still sing to a live audience. Almost an hour passed after the scheduled start, and the crowd grew restless in the cold.

Then Whitney finally emerged, her true shape masked under a thick coat and gloves. She sang two songs from her new album and a gospel tune. Her voice these days is huskier and more breathy than the Whitney of old, and her range on the upper notes more limited, but she took the crowd with her and seemed to grow larger from the attention. And her voice has power still.

Yet she seemed tired and sweaty after three songs, and - after a brief sermon on her hope for peace among families that may well have been brought on by the recent $100 million lawsuit filed against Whitney by her own father - she left the stage, announcing that she needed "a vacation". What kind of Whitney will return from this latest break, only time will tell.



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