"Damaged Diva"...

Irish Independent: Whitney and the tragic fall of a damaged diva

After 10 years of drug abuse, the diva is back on stage. But a shambolic performance proves she's no longer a star
By Ed Power, Tuesday April 20 2010

Whitney Houston was puzzled. "Why do you people take pictures and put it on that Tweety thing," said the '80s star, sweaty and bedraggled on the first of her three dates at Dublin's O2 (her final show is tonight). "Do you watch it at home later on?"

She was referring to the already-infamous YouTube footage from her concert in Birmingham last week, in which she commits grievous bodily harm on her most enduring hit, 'I Will Always Love You'. 'Crackney', as the gossip bloggers have dubbed her, gasped and croaked her way through the song.

Straining in vain for the high notes, the effects of 10 years of heavy crack cocaine use and an abusive marriage to Bobby Brown were all too evident (anti-drugs campaigners needn't bother with colourful phrases to deter the young from substance abuse -- just show them 'before' and 'after' pictures of Whitney).

In Brum, the crowd reacted to her performance in the age-old manner, by slow hand-clapping and booing (or at least some of them did -- eyewitness accounts suggest a wedge of those in attendance cheered for Whitney throughout). With the most high-profile dates of her tour to come, the question was: How would Dublin respond to another sub-par turn?

In fact, the O2 was a picture of politeness. Which is a surprise considering Houston's dishevelled state and the uneven nature of her performance. As in Birmingham, she clearly had trouble reaching for the sky-scraper notes that used to be her trademark.

Despite being on tour for some months, she appeared unsure as how to deliver 'I Will Always Love You'. Holding the mic out the room, Houston encouraged the audience to do the heavy lifting for her. Granted, she did take a tilt at the chorus at the end. Alas, what came out was the equivalent of someone scraping dirty nails across a chalky blackboard.

That was a high point compared to some of her antics. Unable, it appears, to get through a song without dissolving into giggles or whispers, Houston has clearly become an extremely eccentric individual.

At one point, she paid tribute to Michael Jackson, but instead of treating us to one of his hits, she mumbled at length about what a great man he was. Later she presented a young lady in the front row with a plastic bag stuffed with T-shirts. The sense was of seeing someone fall apart minute by minute.

For Houston, it has been a slow, steady decline. The daughter of a New Jersey preacher, Whitney first fell into drug use in the early '90s, following her marriage to R'n'B bad boy Bobby Brown. A megastar after the success of her first movie, The Bodyguard, she started using on an almost nightly basis. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey last year, Houston explained her favourite method of unwinding was smoking a blend of crack and marijuana.

"You put (it in) your marijuana, you lace it, you roll it up and you smoke it," Houston said. "I had so much money and so much access to what I wanted."

Her drug abuse got so serious that her mother, soul singer Cissy Houston, even turned up at her house with a police escort in an attempt to have Houston go into rehab.

"She said 'either you do it my way or we'll go on TV and (say) you're gonna retire'."

In Dublin, nobody heckled at the final curtain. Not even those who had paid 106 for the best seats in the house. Houston had given us her best. The overwhelming feeling was sad bafflement at how far she had let herself go. Why boo someone who can't help them- selves?

She can count herself lucky because we have form when it comes to turning on a singer. As anyone who was at Cat Stevens's show last year will attest, few things are as blood-chilling as the sound of 10,000 punters getting antsy when a performer fails to live up to expectations (especially when said performer is charging a saucy 100 for the privilege of watching them).

In Stevens's case, it was naivety rather than the ravages of drug use that was the problem. Evidently the singer -- who now performs under his Muslim name Yusuf Islam -- thought The O2 would enjoy 40 minutes of his forthcoming West End musical. However, with Stevens absent from stage for close to 40 minutes, the audience wasn't slow about venting its displeasure.

Still, at least Stevens remained in full command of his musical gifts. The same cannot be said of Whitney, whose backing band closed the show, sans Houston, with her hit 'I'm Every Woman'.

Where does she go from here? Perhaps Whitney should concentrate on her studio work. Despite her diminishing vocals powers, her most recent album I Look To You was a surprisingly convincing comeback.

If nothing else, she still knows how to bash out a decent tune. The difficulty is that nowadays it's the live arena where artists make the bulk of their income.

To keep herself in the opulence to which she is accustomed, Whitney may well be back in Dublin sooner rather than later. Next time, we're bringing earplugs.

- Ed Power, Irish Independent



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