BET Awards: Mariah Carey talks about being ‘scared’ of Whitney Houston

Mariah Carey at the BET Awards.
(Michael Buckner / Getty Images / BET)

Whitney Houston died on the eve of this year’s Grammy Awards, and the sudden passing of one of the music industry’s most recognizable and cherished voices cast a pall over the those proceedings. Sunday night’s BET Awards, aided by the healing power of time, staged an extended and moving tribute to the fallen icon, one that celebrated Houston’s career with a performance from her mother, Cissy, an acclaimed gospel singer herself.

Attendees such as Kanye West, Beyonce and Soulja Boy were shown swelling up with tears throughout the segment. Vocal powerhouse Mariah Carey introduced the tribute, which began with singer Monica giving a reserved take on “I Love the Lord.” Yet this remembrance had an uplifting spirit to it, as Brandy gave high-energy performances of “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

Carey spoke of Whitney Houston’s sense of humor, and she almost lost composure toward the end of the speech. “The first time I heard Whitney’s voice I was mesmerized, like the rest of the world,” Carey said. “Just an unknown budding singer myself, I was captivated by the power in her range, the richness of her tone and her unique ability to wrap a lyric in emotion.”

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Carey recalled the first time she met Houston, backstage at a Grammy Awards telecast. Although the media had fun playing up a potential diva feud between the two, Carey said there was nothing but admiration and respect between the two.

Said Carey, “I was in awe -- a tiny bit scared, because, hello, I mean, there were a couple few rumors out there that we had some kind of rivalry. One thing we all know is, Whitney was not to be toyed with, OK?”

The two collaborated on the soundtrack of DreamWorks’ animated 1998 musical, “The Prince of Egypt.” Carey reminded the audience that the two won an Oscar for the song “When You Believe.”

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“We got to spend a lot of time together as we promoted it,” Carey said of the Hollywood-driven collaboration. “We really got to know each other as people, not divas. ... She was a hilarious person with a cutting sense of humor. She was real and she kept it real. That’s why we got along so well and so many others feel like I do: If you really knew Whitney, you couldn’t help but love her.”

The last time she saw Houston, Carey said, was one year ago in London. Rumors of a diva bout persisted, Carey said. “Even then folks were surprised to see us sitting right next to each other, clearly enjoying each other’s company. But we did and we were.”

Carey ended her remembrance on a somber note. “I miss my friend,” she said. “I miss hearing her voice and laughter. But we’ll always ... we’ll always have the music. We will always have the music. We always have that voice we all fell in love with.”

Cissy Houston, the woman who gave life to such an unforgettable voice, then performed “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in front of a large graphic of her and her daughter singing together. She, like many in the crowd, shed tears.