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Whitney Houston, Ready To Return To The Groove hide



A three-year break ended, Whitney Houston is tackling the job of getting her megastar recording career back on track.

Collaborating with hot Atlanta R&B producers L.A. and Babyface in a move widely regarded as an attempt to recapture black fans turned off by pop slickness, she's releasing her third album, I'm Your Baby Tonight (Arista), Nov. 6.

"I would rather say to people that this new album is not different," says Houston, 27, "it's just an extension of what Whitney has in store for them." As Houston's legion of fans (she's had seven consecutive No. 1 hits, more than Elvis, the Beatles and Diana Ross) listen for signals of new directions, she is readying a world tour to kick off next spring. Her only public appearance this year will be two charity shows in Atlantic City, Nov. 23 and 24.

Houston dismisses the notion that she's lost her black public. "I get my flak like everybody else ... but I'm just doing what I do best. I didn't plan on (selling 31 million albums). It just happened. I would think black people would be proud."

She admits that when the hip Fox TV show, In Living Color, needled her for lacking soul, she was initially wounded. Then she decided she couldn't take it personally, and now says she helped Keenen Ivory Wayans' show win an Emmy.

"I don't sing music thinking this is black or this is white ... I sing songs that everybody's going to like."

Her first two albums were so successful that Houston became weary of touring and performing and decided to halt work and regroup.

"I think the public had about enough of me and I had enough of me, too." She stayed at home "just to get to know me again."

During her absence from recording, "rap, dance and solid grooves became very heavy," she says. She wanted in on some of that, and L.A. and Babyface made the perfect producing team because they're doing "the baddest grooves in the world."

She says she had a hand in her new album. "There's no possible way I could sit back and not be involved. ... I've always had input," she says, "in choosing songs, in what the video concept was, and how I looked."

For a moment, she says, she flirted with the idea of moving to Atlanta, which is emerging as a center of black music, but decided against it. Instead she invited L.A. and Babyface to move to New Jersey. She had even picked out a house for them.

They declined, but she's not budging from her home state, where she has "a beautiful home that I love," far from industry hype. "With my family at home in New Jersey, I can be myself. I love the business, but I don't want to live it."

Houston says she's no prisoner in New Jersey, where people know her. "I'm able to go out. I can go to the mall. People don't bombard me. It's important to me to be human. Everybody thinks I'm a superstar, but I know the real deal."

The vocalist produced one song (I'm Knockin') on her new album, which includes a duet with Stevie Wonder (We Didn't Know, "the best duet session I've ever had"). She's hoping to produce more. She and her mother, gospel singer Cissy, are developing a gospel album that Houston wants to produce herself.

Then there's her acting career. Houston has two movie deals in the works, but she says she's not anxious to duel Diana Ross as an actress.

"It's just an exciting part of the entertainment world that I could be good at."

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