The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

A Tale of Two Divas

I’ve written before about Amy Winehouse’s sad, scary, and very public struggle with addiction. In fact, I as I discussed with a co-worker an article I read an on Friday that suggest to me a parallel with another a similar celebrity story; one that turns out to be ongoing.

When I bought Back to Black last spring, I spent month’s listening to it on my commute to and from work. I found myself doing what I almost always do: improvising harmonies. It’s something I started doing in high school, when my voice changed and I couldn’t always sing along with the melody on my favorite songs. I naturally heard the harmonies around the melody, and started singing them.

Needless to say, I quickly became a fan. So I’ve been disconcerted by her continuing spiral, which has again come into sharp focus in he media.

Madam Tussad’s in London just unveiled a wax likeness of Amy Winehouse. Now, I saw the picture of her parents standing next to the wax Amy, and my first thought was “What are you doing?! Why aren’t you hog-tying your daughter and dragging her off to treatment?” I know, she’s a grow woman, but honestly if it were my kid, I wouldn’t care. If a video of you smoking crack showed up on the web, you would be abducted from wherever you were, and when you came to you’d find yourself in rehab, in a locked facility somewhere way, way, way in the middle of nowhere. And they could prosecute me for kidnapping if they wanted to.

But it was the pictures in The Daily Mail that nailed it, with a side-by-side comparison of the wax Amy to various picturs of the real Amy.

The remarkably fresh-faced figure was unveiled at the London waxworks yesterday to the delight of Miss Winehouse’s family. No doubt they’d never seen the troubled singer looking so well.

Seen leaving her home last night with a coterie of hangers on, and with what looked like a marijuana joint in her mouth, the Rehab singer looked sweaty and dishevelled as she got into a car to take her to the studio.

…Yesterday Amy’s parents Mitch and Janis unveiled a wax figure of the troubled singer – complete with trademark beehive and sailor tattoos – at London’s Madame Tussauds today.

But observers couldn’t help but note the 6ft dummy was a rather flattering depiction of the 26-year-old – her scratched, red raw arms and scabby skin glossed over by sculptors.

Miss Winehouse herself didn’t attend, preferring to stay at home in bed.

Her decision to lie low saved her from any unflattering comparisons with the model version of herself. And unfortunately there were plenty to be found.

First there is her complexion. Miss Winehouse, who is struggling against drug and alcohol addiction, is recovering from an unsightly skin condition which has left her face covered in sores.

Then there are her scarred arms, which bear the marks of her habit of self-harming. Her fingernails are usually blackened and grubby and her favourite ballet pumps scuffed and mysteriously bloodstained.

But the team at Madame Tussauds has created the Amy that used to be before she descended into addiction.

Of course, I thought of Whitney Houston, and her addiction spiral, and her impending comeback. For years, I asked why was it that nobody could get Whitney into rehab, and I finally decided it was the hangers-on, like the ones that were mentioned in the article above. One of the pitfalls of fame seems to be that you can become so famous and so rich that you end up surrounded by people who won’t tell you “no,” won’t tell you when you’re about to make a really bad decision, and won’t tell you when you’re basically full of shit. I call it “The Whitney Houston Effect,” though I’m sure the phenomenon existed before she came along.

Speaking of which, she’s back. While Winehouse seems to be following Whitney’s old playbook (Troubled marriage? Check. Incarcerated husband? Check. Drug problem? Check. Embarrassing photos related to drug use? Check. Embarrassing photos of physical decline? Check.), Whitney seems to be just about to regain her footing, and perhaps give us something we enjoy even more than a celebrity’s public decline; a successful comeback story. At least, if the “leaking” of her next single on the internet is any indication.

After an extensive hiatus from recording and more years from R&B/pop charting dominance, international pop diva Whitney Houston returns bigger than ever with the song aptly titled “Like I Never Left.” Featuring hip-hop singer Akon, the song’s groovy midtempo beat begins a welcome departure from Houston’s tried-and-true power ballad style that catapulted her fame in the late 1980′s and throughout the 1990′s.

Needless to say, I gave it a listen. My verdict? It’s not bad.

I’d been wondering for months when Whitney’s comeback would be unveiled. I figured it would be a while in coming because, let’s face it, first she had to get her health back. An addict who did even have as much as Whitney is reported to have done would have to be a very sick lady, physically.

Then she had to get her voice back. There are some sure fire ways to a singer to destroy her voice. Smoking cigarettes is one way I know for sure will do the job. I can’t imagine smoking crack does the voice any favors either.

So, it wouldn’t surprise me if it took some time with a vocal coach to asses the damage, and get Whitney back into vocal shape. The result? If I fire up her greatest hits on iTunes, to compare, I definitely don’t hear the Whitney of the 80s and 90s. But even without a bout of addiction between now and then, I wouldn’t expect that. Even the voices of singers who take excellent care of themselves change as they get older. The instrument ages.

And here? I don’t hear the old Whitney, but I hear Whitney. She sounds a little hoarse, but again that can be attributed as much to time as anything else. And I do hear some of the characteristic vocal riffs i expect from Whitney, including one note I expect she needed to hit just to show she still can. It comes together for a good, mid-tempo song that won’t find a place among her best performances, but it does what it’s supposed to do — announce her return.

Her triumphant return, I should say. The reality is that Whitney still has legions of loyal fans who are just waiting for her to return to form. Whitney doesn’t need a knock-your-sock-off comeback that stuns the world (not saying she won’t pull one off anyway) even a moderately successful comeback will be a giant step towards regaining her old spot. Add a couple of successful live performances (because Whitney live was, in many ways, a different, freer Whitney than you got on her recordings) and the declaration “Yes, your girl is coming back” in her new single will be a promise fulfilled.

But Amy should take note. Comebacks are indeed possible, provided you survive what you’re coming back from.

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