The internets are buzzing about Whitney Houston’s taped performance that aired on “Good Morning America” today. Some folks are heralding it, others, such as Gawker.com, are calling it “disastrous.”
Now there’s a debate raging on about if Houston’s voice was “sweetened.” That, of course, is routinely done on TV appearances, but since “Good Morning America” falls under ABC’s news division, such tampering without admitting it is strictly verboten.
The taping in front of adoring fans was part of the long-lost singer’s big comeback and there were reports that Houston and her voice weren’t at their greatest yesterday. “She was really damaged,” said one fan. That damage, said Whitney, was from gabbing with Oprah for too long.
Whatever the true cause, our tipsters says that following the concert GMA producers and network executives at ABC furiously debated what to air. Ultimately, GMA entertainment producer Karen Rhee convinced the ABC brass in L.A. – and over the objections of the ABC News executives in New York (yes, GMA is technically a news program – to bring in a post-production team to “sweeten” Houston’s voice.
Houston could have proved that her voice is back by performing live, but clearly the powers that be felt that was too risky. Plus, as much as she may want to come back, it’s hard to imagine that Houston would be willing and ready to sing with the birds. (A live performance at 8:30 a.m. has to be tough enough, much less the sound check that usually concludes before 7 a.m., depending upon the morning show).
As I watched playbacks of the performance, all I could think was there’s no way we’ll see Houston mount a full-on tour given that she could hardly get through four songs, but then I remembered that Britney Spears had one of the most successful tours of the year without singing a note (of course, few have claimed to be a fan of Spears because of her stellar vocals). We’re sure that people will pay to hear Houston hit a few well-placed high notes, scat a little, do some call and response, and otherwise let the back up singers have the glory (as well as the time honored tradition of getting the crowd to sing along).
As far as the four-song “Good Morning America” performance goes, Houston’s not “disastrous” by any means, but she does nothing to dispel thoughts that her voice is far from what it used to be. While Houston fans have, perhaps rightly, declared it unfair to judge her voice on the same merits we did 20 years ago, it seems that’s all we have to judge her on. As we see more of her return performances (if there are any), we’ll be able to see if the nuances, heartache and wisdom that made Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday’s voices so compelling in their later years—long after their initial flawless delivery was gone — exists with Houston. We bet it does.
On title track, “I Look to You,” Houston’s voice cracked from the start, but she sounded plenty strong during the first chorus. Plus, the emotional delivery of the song far outweighed any technical flaws (proof of our above point). She didn’t even attempt to hit the high note near the end though-whether by design or an in-the-moment decision. And “GMA” certainly managed to tug the heartstrings by showing Mama Houston crying over her baby’s return. Pretty much the same on the much less vocally challenging “Million Dollar Bill,” Houston started strong, but let the crowd and the back up singers do any heavy lifting. By the time she got to “My Love is Your Love,” she was audibly raspy and resorted to talking through much of it. “I’m Every Woman” was buoyed by an audience whom you could feel rooting for her.
Listen, I’m as happy as the next girl that Houston’s back and that she seems to have conquered her personal demons, which is much more of a triumph than putting out a new album that seems headed straight for the top of the charts. But her label’s breathless hype machine might do well to turn down the rhetoric a little. If her handlers are so adamant about convincing us that Houston is back to form, then let the music speak for itself…and let’s see her sing live.