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Girl With The Midas Touch hide

SO Whitney Houston, 22, is the top new star in People magazine's eighth annual poll of readers. She trailed Barbra Streisand by a hair for favorite female vocalist and it won't be long before she nudges out the superstar as the best in the land.

Miss Houston is a sexy rookie in the poll, but like her Aunty, Dionne Warwick, this young lady is certain of superstar status for decades to come. She has class _ and talent _ which is rare blend in the world of popular music.

As she sings in her latest hit, she's going to make it on her own but if breeding helps, it's in the genes. Mummy is Cissy Houston, we know Aunty Dionne and she grew up calling Aretha Franklin "Auntie Ree".

Combine that with a voice with the richness and texture of molasses, there's got to be a lot going for you.

Everything she sings, turns to gold, and her latest effort is "The Greatest Love of All" _ an old George Benson hit, but given the works by Miss Houston. In February, she won her first Grammy for best female pop performance with her single "Saving All My Love For You" and was nominated for three others. It was clear this was the undisputed heiress to the pop gospel tradition of Aunty Dionne and Aunty Ree.

Her fire and steel voice made "Whitney Houston" one of the most exciting debut albums in years. She had back-to-back hits with "Saving . . ." and "You Give Good Love".

She has left behind much of the gospel influence which infiltrated the mind of a 12-year-old who sang back-up for her gospel-singing mother. It's now more cool than earthy with so much self-assurance and emotional intensity.

The good looks don't hurt, either. She's already been a model and an actress.

"I think I got my emotion from gospel singing," she says. "My mom began instilling it at a very early age. She's my greatest inspiration, but I don't emulate her. "She sees and she listens to what I do and tells me what she thinks. She's particular, but she likes everything so far."

Whitney has marched across some barriers which have existed for other singers of her race.

"It's been really satisfying, although I didn't plan it that way," she said. "My only plan was to follow my mother's advice: Simplicity is best and make every word clear.

"But if there's soul appeal in "You Give Good Love' that's not surprising. With my gospel background, I couldn't have left it out if I'd tried.

"There's was a moment of controversy when syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers put the song on her list of those with questionable lyrics," she said. "I thought it was funny," said Whitney. "I think Miss Landers probably responded to a question without knowing the song."

Her tour schedule had her as opening act to Luther Vandross. It is debatable if she will ever be an opening act again.

It was a challenge and another part of the careful grounding from her family and advisors. "I couldn't let myself think about singing for 15,000 people," she said. "If I had, I wouldn't have gone near that stage."

She learned early to take care of her voice. In Los Angeles she sang despite swollen glands and next morning couldn't even raise a whisper to get on the phone to call for help.

"Dionne took me to her doctor, and he said I couldn't sing for a week. I asked if that meant I had to cancel that night's show, he laughed. I hated cancelling. It was the worst night of my life."

Whitney and friends make sure she is not pushed too far. "My health and my voice are the first priority. I perform only four days a week so I always have time to come home to regroup."

She looks fragile, which accounts for the extra care that is being taken. People are surprised, she says, when they first see her and wonder where that fabulous voice comes from.

"Hey, who is this girl with that frail body and those long legs?" is the reaction she produces.

"There's a real contradiction between the vocal and the visual," she said recently.

"And I think I can keep on surprising a lot of people."

You can bet on it.

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