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Houston Saving All Her Love For The Tour hide

Those who witnessed her knock-out Aug. 28 show at Humphrey's know the 22-year-old New Jersey native needs all her energy for her performances. Her self-titled 1985 debut album reached the No. 2 spot on the pop charts last month, but her recorded work -- which consists mostly of slickly produced, unremarkable pop songs and ballads -- only scratches the surface of her talent. "When you're making a record, you're trying to do something that will appeal to everyone," said Houston.

"But when I perform live, I can do what I want with a song." Indeed.

With a voice that has assimilated nuances from R&B, jazz, rock and gospel, Houston can take a tame melody and transform it into aural sculpture. She can send it to the top of her impressive vocal range and unexpectedly extend any note for a breathtaking length of time.

Just as suddenly and easily, she can drop an octave, shifting from excited to tender moods without a moment's hesitation.

She can twist a melody, lean on it, ruffle its edges or smooth it down. With this amazing vocal instrument as her tool, Houston goes in and excavates a song for every possible ounce of emotion. For Houston, the daughter of veteran R&B singer Cissy Houston and the niece of Dionne Warwick, that is what singing is about -- communicating a feeling. "To me singing is knowing what you're saying, relating to that experience and getting everyone in the audience to feel that same way," she said.

"I try to stay away from any kind of vocal gimmicks.

I don't need them." When asked about influences, Houston listed Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder.

But afterward, she cautioned: "I never listened for the way they would bend a note or anything.

I'd watch for what kind of mood they set, what sort of presence they projected, what kind of effect they had on people." Growing up in a musical family, Houston enjoyed an unusual number of opportunities as a developing singer.

Her mother, who led the '60s R&B vocal group, the Sweet Inspirations, taught her how to use the stage and the studio, and about the music business. As a teenager, she sang back-up for the likes of Lou Rawls, Chaka Khan and the Neville Brothers. To top it all, the svelte, chisel-featured Houston is a beauty, and has been seen on the pages of Vogue, Mademoiselle and other fashion magazines since she was 17. Houston's poise and modeling ability lend her a natural grace on stage and enable her to exude a classy, but undeniable sexuality while singing. But of all the advantages in her background, Houston said her gospel singing in Newark's New Hope Baptist Church shaped her attitude toward singing most significantly. "In a way, I sing gospel every day of my life," she said. "Because gospel means being honest.

It means that you're not getting your energy from anything on the outside.

It means you're getting it from yourself, from something deep inside of you." When this tour finishes Dec. 1 in Los Angeles, Houston will return to her New Jersey home and begin the process of recording her second album.

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