She’s been gone for seven years and her fans have missed her. On Wednesday morning, September 2, Whitney Houston performed in Central Park in a half-hour concert broadcast on ABC’s Good Morning America. Diehard fans lined up the night before hoping to get as close as possible to the singing star.
Although she only sang four songs, two past hits and two from her new album, fans were grateful for whatever crumbs she tossed their way. Despite all the divas that have come on the scene since Whitney bowed out, no one has managed to take her place. (She had seven consecutive multiplatinum albums, beating even the Beatles, and her rendition of the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991, released as a single after 9/11, will never be topped). Speculation has centered on whether she still has the voice, the presence, the command to pick up where she left off. One performance, even one album, while hailed as a comeback, can either be a short-lived triumph or the true start of something bigger. So far, reviews for her album have been mixed. During her GMA concert, her voice faltered and she apologized to the crowd. But many fans were ready to forgive and forget. They want to see her reclaim her crown.
GMA scored a coup over rival morning shows by landing Houston’s musical reentry. The morning shows have used these concert series as a way to build viewership as well as live audiences. Usually GMA‘s concerts are held in Bryant Park. It’s a testament to Houston’s popularity that her fans would never fit into that small space. Only Central Park would do.
There was a poignant moment at the beginning of the concert when Diane Sawyer greeted her old friend. “Seven years ago, we looked into each other’s eyes,” Sawyer told Houston. “I was worried about you.” (Sawyer was referring to a 2002 interview where the singer denied doing crack, uttering the infamous line—“We don’t do crack. Crack is wack”—but admitted doing other drugs with her husband, Bobby Brown). Two years ago, she divorced Brown, denying him spousal support and winning sole custody of her daughter, Bobbi Kristina. “What was it about those seven years that brought you here today?” Sawyer asked her. “My faith,” Houston replied, “the love and faith of my family.”
Bobbi Kristina joined her mother on stage to sing “My Love Is Your Love” and the two kissed and embraced at the end. Whitney dedicated the title song from her new album, “I Look to You,” to her mother Cissy Houston, who was in the audience with other relatives.
The half hour went by in a flash, but Houston’s promotion for her new album is just beginning. Her challenge is not only to sell her new album, but also to sell her rehabilitated self. Oprah will dedicate two of her shows the week of September 8 interviewing Houston and clips show the questions will be tough.
For many fans, however, Houston remains frozen in time from her memorable role in The Bodyguard, where she brought shivers when she sang, “I Will Always Love You.” (How many newlyweds have danced to that song at their wedding?) Those who watched her descent into drugs, mourned the loss of a true superstar. Now she’s back. And as we all know, there’s nothing better than a good comeback story.