IT speaks volumes of Whitney Houston that, while many of the fame and fortune chasers auditioning for their big break in The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent – including right here in Blackpool – try to sing like her, very few succeed. And most slaughter the songs she made her own – which Dolly Parton penned and sang for a friend: I Will Always Love You.
With characteristic candour, Blackpool talent show host Joey Blower admits he’s dreading the Whitney wannabes in the talent and karaoke season at North Pier’s Merrie England showbar.
“Her death will bring more out of the woodwork. She had a fantastic voice. I Will Always Love You is already one of the most sung songs and it’s going to rocket this season.
“Like Simon Cowell I get tired of hearing it sung, particularly sung badly by people who can’t hit the notes. I find some of Whitney’s songs boring for that very reason. They’re not so great when you’re inundated with second rate copies. I’m actually thinking of taking some of her songs off the karaoke just to avoid the overkill.
“It’s a tragic waste of life. She’s another George Best or Amy Winehouse, a great but self-destructive talent. Most of the time it’s down to the friends you have around you, gold diggers leading them in the wrong direction.”
Singleton-based rock historian, photographer and former musician Pete Shelton agrees: “She was the best of the female divas, such as Mariah Carey and Christine Aguilera, but didn’t get the best break with husband Bobby Brown.
“The world of celebrity also required she was always there, out front, available. Showbiz can be punishing. Life isn’t your own. What a waste of talent – and life.”
Blackpool-based urban streetdance and breakdance performer, choreographer and tutor Mimi Mich-l Ramsey adds: “She had a huge impact on dance during the 80s and 90s. Back in the 80s I did panto with Norman Wisdom at the Grand in the Tiny Tots and we did a dance to I Wanna Dance with Somebody.
“She was part of my going out to tunes I loved, I’m Every Woman, Step by Step and more. In the late 90s I choreographed a dance for a show to her It’s Not Right. She has been a great inspiration to dancers all over the world.”
In 23 years of sourcing the most credible soundalikes in showbusiness, Blackpool-based Chance Promotions say only one girl came close to giving a near note-perfect performance as Whitney. Trevor and Brenda Chance created the UK’s first ever live show featuring performers emulating the biggest stars.
In 1990 the fast-paced Legends of Rock raised the game, and the generic Legends show both toured and was based at Central Pier. It’s one of the few shows to pack in locals as well as visitors ever since.
Chance Promotions seek the best look/soundalikes, a term they claim to have coined, even flying a Michael Jackson and Madonna from the USA to Dubai for a one-nighter, and a Shirley Bassey for royalty. In the pick ‘n’ mix which makes up the talent there’s at least four male tributes for every female (Bassey, Ross, Minogue, Gaga, Turner or Lulu) featured.
It’s crucial, says Brenda, “That singers also have the temperament to be on top form – Legends is gruelling for performers – and also play nice as part of a team. They may be playing divas or divos, but there’s no room for egos or excesses here.”
But most tribute acts have a problem with Houston, a reach too far vocally, for most. At best she could outsing an operatic coloratura, at worst sing the blues with the best of them, including fellow Grammy award-winning family members.
She learned her craft from her mother Cissy, a great soul singer who formed a gospel trio with Whitney’s cousins Dionne and the late Dee Dee Warwick. Soul and R&B queen Aretha Franklin was her godmother.
Whitney had a volatile marriage with R&B singer Bobby Brown. Unlike the film which consolidated her fame, there was no Bodyguard to save her from herself.
As a former showbiz journalist Brenda knows the industry inside out and says: “In 23 years we could only find one girl who could replicate Whitney’s voice. Whitney was an icon.
“Her death marks another sad milestone in the devastating body count of the industry. Being thrown into a world of fame and idolisation engenders the mistaken belief that talent is indestructible and lasts forever.
“Artistes are intrinsically insecure forever, seeking to replicate the high of positive audience response in other areas of their lives; often without success.
“Relationships pale against the dedication of the ultimate fan base. Fame brings wealth, and excesses offered heighten this belief for a while, until it eats the talent and paranoia sets in.
“The press turns against them and eventually their public. It’s an old story retold in music, film and the arts.
“Often it’s just about getting old and not being able to handle this, but drugs accelerate that feeling.
“Nothing matches the high they get onstage performing. When that leaves there is nothing left.”