Prime Cuts: Medley: I Loves You, Porgy/And I Am Telling You Im Not Going/I Have Nothing (The 21st Annual American Music Awards, 1994), I Didn't Know My Own Strength (The Oprah Winfrey Show, 2009), One Moment In Time (The 31st Annual Grammy® Awards, 1989)
When Whitney Houston sings, she pulverizes. Vocally, she's an Olympic gold medal-awarded gymnast. Especially when she sings live, she has the agility to bend her notes and stretch them until they reach the heavens. A one-syllable word like "you" in Houston's hands can be so elastic that it stretches over an entire scale of notes. Not only can Houston rattle her audience with her elongated and loud notes, but when she gets soft and tender, she equally gets to our hearts. Nonpareil as her vocals may be, it's only a snippet of her greatness. When she gets to the stage, she shows you who the Queen of the Night is. Her command over her audience is pure mesmerizing. Her ability to get you move to edge of your sit and her ability to make you want to get up in standing ovation are all inherent in just her stage presence itself. Especially when she sings live, you can see her singing taking on a persona of itself. This is why if you look at the singing demeanor of countless contestants on TV show such as "American Idol" or "The Voice," you can see Houston's indelible influence all over.
Though Whitney Houston has had major World Tours ensuing the release of every of her major album and soundtracks (save for "Just Whitney" and "One Wish"), no live album has ever been released while the diva was still alive. It has taken her mentor Clive Davis and the president of Houston's estate Pat Houston two years after Houston's passing for a live album to surface. Arranged chronologically from her 1983 performance at the Merv Griffin Show to her final swan song in 2009 at Oprah, the album forms a broad arc of a biopic. The album starts off with the Newark native a couple of years before she released her debut album "Whitney Houston." Her first introduction to the media finds a 19 year-old Houston singing "Home," the theme song to the musical "The Whiz." Though Houston still lacked the confidence of her prime with too many irritating Broadway theatrics in her voice, she shows potential.
Conspicuously missing from this set is her first #1 hit "Saving All My Love for You." But her earlier career is well represented by her jaw dropping version of "One Moment in Time." A million times better than her studio version, Houston takes her time to establish herself first before exploding towards the end with lots of high and long holding note so befitting of the song's lyrics to carpe diem. If you look at the DVD don't miss how Houston's mom Cissy Houston's face beams with joy as she sees how her daughter plays around with the audience in a jazzy take of her 1991 #1 ballad "All the Man that I Need." Then when we come to the pinnacle of Houston's career -- the Bodyguard years -- be prepared to hear Houston's epic medley when she delivers a medley of show tunes beginning with "I Loves You, Porgy," "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" before seamlessly transitioning to her #4 hit "I Have Nothing." The way she draws us in, pauses, teases us, before unleashing every ounce of life leaves us speechless in awe.
Though her later years were a fodder for the tabloids, Houston has never really waned as a performer. Rather, with a wizened grit, she sings her 1998 hit "My Love is Your Love" live better than her studio version. While the original version has a monotonous bridge, here Whitney without the scaffoldings of her studio band, Houston lets loose allowing her Gospel roots to come to the fore. Already plagued by the crippling effects of drugs, her 2004 performance of "I Believe in You and Me" still shows she can belt with poise, attitude and the added wisdom that were missing when the song was first recorded in the 90s. Most bittersweet is the album's final cut. In a time when critics were already sharpening their axes, Houston made a comeback not only with a Billboard 200 #1 album but her rendition of Diane Warren's "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" at Oprah was the jewel in her crown. A testimony of her triumph over her ordeals, she sings this ballad as if every syllable dictates her life's convictions.
When Whitney died, ballads - the big bombastic type- died with her. After Whitney, you will be hard pressed to find ballads of the Houston type around anymore. And after Whitney, you will be hard pressed to find another singer with her vocal range, flourishes, beauty, depth and color again. Thank God we have this album as a parting memento.
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