The annual Clive Davis pre-Grammy party is a giant star-spackled cruise-ship extravaganza, and last night Whitney Houston was its headliner, anchor, and fire drill coordinator rolled into one. Her presence electrified a room full of people who had just spent three hours eating chicken and downing wine within napkin-tossing distance of Prince — a room full of people who’d already heard stunning performances from the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, and the man formerly known as Puff Daddy — and when she at last appeared in the Beverly Hilton ballroom, celebrity planets like Jamie Foxx rushed the stage to orbit her sun.
In a leopard-skin minidress and fluffy cape of the Chaka Khan school, Houston revealed she’s back in sparring shape; when she opened her mouth, what came out was strong and controlled (though, admittedly, she was still trading more on the theatricality of our anticipation than the power of the golden pipes she used to possess). So psyched was the crowd that it hardly seemed to miss the big notes in edited arrangements of both "I Will Always Love You" and "I Believe In You and Me," and the fact that Houston’s backup singers had to carry much of "It’s Not Right But It’s Okay" did not dim the dance party. By the time the long-dormant star got to "I’m Every Woman," the mid-range of her voice was full of confidence, her body language full of bounce, and the entire music industry was on its feet with its hands in the air to celebrate Houston, as she celebrated the man she called "my father," Clive Davis.