In her prime, nobody can hold a candle against Whitney Houston. Nobody can sing Whitney songs and make them as solid as something you can actually touch and smash other divas to the face with like she can. Her voice is a Million Dollar Bill (sorry for the pun). Her voice is a tour de force. Her voice influenced and inspired a lot of professional singers and musician, frustrated amateur singers on end, and struck fear in Madonna’s heart. She’s confident and formidable. She’s high and mighty. And now, she’s gone and missed.
Then, while in transit to work, I came across a poster of The Whitney Houston Show starring Belinda Davids.
Being the diva connoisseur that I am, she piqued my curiosity. “How dare she? That’s a difficult challenge for her to accept. She’s got big shoes to fill. This is almost blasphemous.” I uttered under my breath. “I’ll see how this goes on August 27.” I thought as I’ve decided to come and see for myself.
On the night of the concert, as the lights dimmed…
“Whatever you want…” Oh sweet mother she must be lip synching…
“Whatever you need…” Isn’t she?
“Whatever you want I’ll do it naturally…” No, there are some nuances. She’s singing live.
“Cause I’m every woman, It’s all in me…” Yass queen! Slay! Slay! Slay!
I just can’t believe it. She’s the second best thing to hearing Whitney live. Half of the time, I closed my eyes and I heard Whitney, a fragment of that defining, trademark godly voice. Just like The Voice: Blind Auditions, she sang the first line of the song with the lights off. It’s like an audition, and if it was, for sure she’ll have a four thousand chair turn at the PICC plenary hall. The way she triumphed and got selected in over 15,000 auditions for the job.
She kicked off with Chaka Khan’s original – I’m Every Woman. She had me with the first line of the song. I don’t even know if I’m loving her as Whitney or if I’m loving her as Belinda. Her voice just soars high up in the heavens. The crowd, warmed up by the dancey tune, danced with joy and clapped along to the upbeat tempo of the song. For her second song, – Didn’t We Almost Have it All – there were no fancy sets, no distracting props, just Belinda, under a spotlight, front and center, showcasing her incredible breath support and intelligent utilization of dynamics. She literally just throws high notes such as E5, F5 and F#5 like it was nothing. Same with Whitney, she needs no theatrics or whatsoever as distraction from the power of her voice. Under the dim light, it’s just like she’s singing by herself, showing vulnerability in the confines of her own personal space.
Belinda is quite beautiful, charming when she smiles, which she does a lot actually. She looks like a demure classy woman with expensive hair and couture gown, but in spite of that, she managed to perform her jumpy dance moves and work all the corners of the stage in her stillettos with unwavering effortlessness. She is shy and unspoilt, almost kittenish, but able to transform into a tigress as instantly as her voice transitions from a feathery headtone to a full smashing chest voice and everything in between.
In the concert’s best moments, the performances were a treat with Belinda’s glorious voice reaching deep into the corners of the plenary hall and filling it with a breathtaking sound. There would appear to be no limits to her 4–octave capacity as a singer. She was more than capable of using Whitney’s techniques and use it carefully, as well as playing with rhythmic dance moves and signature inflections to create that Whitney stance. She knows her instrument well, holding back in moments of uncertainty, a little vibratto here and there to avoid pitch problems which in totality is actually worth commending, because it just shows her absolute command and authority over her gift. Throughout the whole performance, she is pitch perfect 99% of the time which is an amazing, glorious feat for a live performer considering that she is singing 20 challenging songs, for full two hours, dancing in different dresses (long, frilly, sequined, latex, satin) in a country that she has visited for the first time with a different climate than what she’s used to. Even Whitney at her prime will surely slip every once in a while given the said conditions.
Some songs in the concert – My Love Is Your Love, I Have Nothing – were extended/remixed versions. Of course, being the diva that she is, Whitney doesn’t sing her songs live as is recorded on her albums, she adds some melisma, a couple of runs here and there, and these attention to little details endeared Belinda to me. She’s not an impersonator, she’s not there to imitate Whitney but she has come to share Whitney’s magic as a fan herself. She’s not singing how Whitney sings in her records, she’s singing how Whitney would sing it if she were alive, healthy and at the top of her game.
The signature songs – Saving All My Love for You, The Greatest Love of All , One Moment in Time – you wouldn’t want to hear them if the singer can’t sing it like Whitney but Belinda pushed through with flying colors. Belinda occasionally slips to her own tone, which is a bit like The Voice USA Season 5 winner Tessane Chin but either way, there are no complaints here. Her pipes are just gorgeous. In our local language, she’s so “Pak ganern!”
Belinda also did shake loose for the upbeat songs – My Name Is Not Susan, So Emotional, I Wanna Dance with Somebody and it was delightful to see – during the dance break on “How Will I Know,” she showed the audience how much fun dancing along with her could be.
The best performance for me is her performance of I Have Nothing. Her voice is just moving, her belts are resonant and only ever so slightly becomes shrill in her highest belts. Her head voice is well connected to her chest voice and her low notes are full, solid and well supported. Her melismas and runs are perfect in all registers, and she has this rolling, velvety vibratto that is pleasing to the ears.
The show as a whole was perfectly put together but celebrating Whitney and remembering her at the top of her game through Belinda’s voice is the point of the whole thing. The lights, sounds, the 6 piece band, the 4 piece dancers are all icing to the cake.
For her encore, she sang “I Will Always Love You” while snapshots of Whitney were shown in the background. It was a very heartfelt moment, but by this time, the audience was not shouting Whitney’s name anymore. They’re shouting Belinda’s. I guess that’s a clear statement of how good of a singer she is in her own right, even in Whitney’s shoes.
I’m Every Woman
Didn’t We Almost Have It All
Run to You
Where Do Broken Hearts Go
It’s Not Right But It’s Okay
I’m Your Baby Tonight
You Give Good Love
How Will I Know
The Greatest Love of All
Queen of the Night
Exhale (Shoop Shoop)
My Love Is Your Love
One Moment in Time
Million Dollar Bill
I Have Nothing
Saving All My Love for You
My Name Is Not Susan
I Wanna Dance with Somebody
I Will Always Love You
Battle Hymn of the Republic