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
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
"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
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
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
- Ed Power, Irish Independent
20 APRIL 2010