Was Whitney Houston gay?

Yolonda Ross

Editor’s note: This week, the Lifetime TV movie Whitney — directed very ably by Angela Bassett — makes its debut. For a TV biopic, it’s pretty good, though many fans will be disappointed that it doesn’t delve into her life much before or after she met Bobby Brown (it’s really a love story). But Deborah Cox, who dubs the singing of Whitney, does great with the numbers and it’s a lot of fun to watch.

But some folks may wonder what, exactly, was left out, which is what freelancer Mark Dawson asked about when he interviewed Yolonda Ross, who plays Whitney’s (rumored) lesbian lover in the movie.

There’s one thing Yolonda Ross — the actress who plays the role of Whitney Houston’s (rumored) lesbian lover in the upcoming Lifetime movie, which premieres Saturday — knows for sure about Whitney and her gal pal, Robyn: “They were two people that deeply loved, cared for and respected one another,” she says. “Theirs could have been more than a friendship and if so, it’s really unfortunate if others got in the way of it or compromised it.”

Directed by Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett, Whitney Houston will focus on the singer’s rise to stardom and her stormy relationship with Bobby Brown.

To prepare for the role, Ross feverishly studied Houston and her longtime assistant, Robyn Crawford. According to reports, the two met at 16 during a summer job in East Orange, N.J., and allegedly soon began a romantic relationship. They purportedly broke up when Houston married Brown in 1992.

“Robyn seems to be a straight-up, very grounded person,” Ross says, “somebody who, no matter what the situation, has got your back or is gonna set you straight. She offered security to Whitney and uncompromised companionship.”

The film is the first-ever produced about the life and death of Whitney Houston. Ross predicts it will be a piece of history. “Like The Jackson’s movie, The Temptations and The Five Heartbeats: three movies every black person in America has seen at least once in their life. This will be one of those, but reach an even wider audience due to today’s global media.”

Ross made her feature film debut in 2001’s Stranger Inside. The film earned the actress her first Film Independent Spirit Award nomination, along with the IFP Gotham Award for breakthrough performance.

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Ya Ya DaCosta and Arlen Escarpeta as Whitney and Bobby

She went on to appear in Denzel Washington’s Antwone Fisher, Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, David Mamet’s Phil Spector, HBO’s Treme and the independent film, Yelling To The Sky. In 2014, she starred in John Sayles Go For Sisters, a film that has done what no other has — featured two black women leading a buddy film. This role earned the Omaha native her second Spirit Award nomination (for supporting actress). She has several films slated for 2015 including the indie drama Meadowland with Olivia Wilde and Lila and Eve starring Jennifer Lopez and Viola Davis.

“I’ve always been creative,” she says. “I paint, write, sing and play instruments.” However, she never imagined she’d pursue a career in acting. “I have always been painfully shy. Getting in front of people and acting something out was nothing I ever thought I would do.”

That all changed when she moved to New York City and realized she would need extra money to get by.

“I was in school and friends convinced me to try commercials and music videos. The opportunity came to do extra work on Saturday Night Live. It got me my AFTRA card and an agent. I didn’t hear from the agency for a while, but out of the blue, they sent me on an audition for New York Undercover, and I booked it. Months later they called me for another audition. It was for Stranger Inside.”

That HBO film forever changed the course of the young actress’ life.

“I had never taken an acting course,” she says. “But I was blessed with a gift and I have always studied people, and used music to help me create. I just applied that knowledge to scripts.”

When taking on a role, Ross’ objective is to embody a character to its fullest. “I aim to be that person inside and out, from the way they smell to the way they think. I want to know their ticks and personal traits. I want the character to speak through me and to make the viewer feel something,” she explains.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing. Ross describes being a young black woman in Hollywood today as “swimming upstream against the current and sometimes having rocks thrown at you.”

There are multiple hurdles. “Where roles for white actresses are endless, we only get to play limited types of characters,” she says, “and many are side roles that are only given few lines in a movie.”

She also sites lack of support from the black community. “Unless you’re Halle, Angela, Kerry Washington, or Viola now, it’s easy to be overlooked by the community, but social networking does help. Some of us keep ourselves employed by creating our own interesting content, but it takes money, time and people to do all that and not all actors want to do everything.”

Fortunately for Ross, she does.

 

 

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Whitney Houston Live’

Whitney HoustonOur Year in Review list of the best albums of 2014 comes out Friday, and three weeks from now, the Lifetime movie Whitney airs, so we thought we’d whet your appetite for both with some music reviews, beginning, of course, with Chris Azzopardi’s dissection of Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances.

If anyone epitomized a “moment in time,” it was Whitney Houston. At her peak, she unleashed her unmistakable, hit-making voice to seize each one, each song, like it was her last. And then sadly, in 2012 with an impromptu “Jesus Loves Me,” one last song did come, as her storied decline led to her shocking death.

Preserving just the surface of her iconic pop culture heritage is Legacy Recordings’ Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances, a bittersweet remembrance of a voice that inspired generations, and a showcase for the unbelievable power it possessed on stage. These are the five greatest “moments” of Whitney’s Greatest Performances, her first-ever live album:

5. “I Will Always Love You.” There are better versions of Whitney’s chart behemoth from The Bodyguard — she’s less pristine and strays from the song’s biggest challenges — but you can still feel every note of this take from 1994’s “The Concert for a New South Africa.” Here, her booming belt and unprecedented passion work the sea of people into a frenzy. Despite some vocal compromises, her authenticity is unmatched. Yes, the legendary key-change climax, though still overwhelming, is powered down from the soundtrack cut (she was more on point earlier that same year at a performance in Chile). But her ability to deliver a performance that left a piece of her heart in your hands was a rare quality that would prove as valuable to her career as the voice that delivered it.

4. “The Greatest Love of All.” Whitney never walked in anyone’s shadows but her own. And when she performed this, the fourth single from her 1985 self-titled debut, unleashing a towering display of vocal pyrotechnics during that last set of runs, everyone else would have to follow in hers. Live from 1990’s That’s What Friends Are For: Arista Records 15th Anniversary Concert, Whitney’s self-love manifesto remains true to the studio recording even though Houston embellished on the showstopper’s original framework. When the chorus comes in, though, she takes you to a familiar place. A life-affirming place. A place only she could.

3. “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Sweat-drenched and feverish, Houston would turn “The Star-Spangled Banner” into a historical and much-celebrated bench marker. No performer has yet to rival what she did with the anthem during Super Bowl XXV, when she lifted her voice to unmatchable, chill-inducing heights, erupting into a volcano of supreme vocality. That day in January 1991, it didn’t matter which team scored the first, or even the last, touchdown — the event had already taken place.

2. “A Song For You.” In 1991, Whitney took on Leon Russell’s classic and turned it into a spectacle. With the clarity, control and soul of a singer in her prime, Houston launched with a crawl, let her voice run to the rafters, and then gently eased her way back to the ground. “A Song For You” wasn’t technically a song of hers, but it might as well have been. She owned every note of it, and not just because of that impressive range — Whitney the Interpreter, for all her vocal prowess, also had a way with words.

1. “One Moment in Time.” Foreshadowing the “rise and fall” of Whitney’s personal and professional life, “One Moment in Time” captured the singer’s early-career essence. Though, along with her increasingly inconsistent voice, her passion for performing eventually diminished — the puzzling presence of “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” in 2009 on Oprah  demonstrates this sad fact — this was Whitney at her most triumphant. “I will be free,” she belted at the 31st Grammy Awards in 1989, giving angel wings to the carpe diem message she so earnestly felt. And then, too soon, free she was.

— Chris Azzopardi

 

 

 

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Preview: ‘Project Runway All Stars’

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Gunner Deatherage

As cheesy as “all-star” seasons of reality shows are, I totally get why they are addictive — and easy for producers: Lure back proven drama queens, bitches, egomaniacs and know already know the fur with fly.

So it’s no surprise the new version of Project Runway All Stars — which debuts tonight on Lifetime — stacks the deck with 14 returning contestants … and all but two of which (Season 4 drag queen costumer Chris March and Season 7 bitchy gay Jay Sario) are from the past three seasons (10, 11 and 12). Catty competitors Helen and Alexandria (Season 12) join sweet gay deaf boy Justin LeBlanc, but they can cast looks he doesn’t need a sign language interpreter to figure out.

Season 11′s Kate Pankoke (she also was on Season 12), Samantha Black, Benjamin Mach, finale runner-up Patricia Michaels and eventual winner Michelle Lesniak are a clique, as are Season 10′s uber-gay Fabio Costa and Gunner Deatherage, Sonja Williams and winner Dimitri Sholokhov. (They aren’t the only returning faces: So is host Alyssa Milano, judges Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman, and mentor Zanna Roberts Rossi.)

Because they all are returning faves, many of whom made it to late in the game, there aren’t any obviously outclassed contestants … but neither are they all likable. That’s OK. Still, such familiarity reduces the surprise factor, but for the most part if you’ve been a fan of recent seasons, you’ll continue to enjoy it.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Project Runway’ returns next month, Dallas designer among contestants

PR_13comp_RLifetime has announced July 24 as the start date for the new season of Project Runway. And Michael Kors is officially just a dim memory.

Zac Posen, Nina Garcia, Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn are back, but as I predicted more than a year ago — and again about a year ago — the loss of the show’s bitchiest critic has cooled my enthusiasm. Indeed, the series usually has two editions per calendar year, but the spring collection was replaced by Under the Gunn, a kind of Project Runway Lite thrown together when Klum wasn’t available to host.

The good news is, one of the new season’s contestants is gay Dallas designer Emmanuel Tobias, 29 (far right), and two others are Texas natives. We like our Texans on the show. No one does big hair better.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Project Runway’ ad presses the flesh

pr12_key_artProject Runway launches its new season — its 12th — a week from tomorrow on Lifetime, and honestly, I haven’t been all that excited about it. No more Michael Kors. More gimmicks. No Texans in the cast.

But I have to say, the new ad campaign for the season has me, ummm, intrigued.

Now, I know the models in this photo are not the contestants. It’s just one more gimmick for the aging franchise. But if you have to have a gimmick, using racy nudity of hard-bodied men (and, admittedly, women) isn’t such a bad idea. And Heidi dressed as Marie Antoinette (and Tim Gunn standing beside her in a pose that’s slightly evocative of something S&M) probably has the desired effect: I’ll be watching.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Celeb news I don’t know how to respond to

Lifetime announces that Lindsay Lohan is set to portray Elizabeth Taylor in a TV movie, Liz & Dick. It will begin filming in June. They were both troubled starlets….

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

“Project Runway” crowns a gay winner — we just don’t know which one yet

Ever since Project Runway moved from Bravo to Lifetime two years ago, its entertainment quotient has taken a nose-dive. Season 8 was the most boring until the current season, an All-Stars edition which brings back players from Seasons 1 through 8. (Season 9 also crowned a controversial winner, someone who had been a designer for only a few months.) This version has been marred by dumb competitions and a substitute slate of less interesting judges. (No Tim Gunn! No Heidi! No Michael Kors! No Nina Garcia!… OK, that last one’s not so bad.)

But the one thing you can say about this season is: Whoever wins will be a gay guy.

That may seem like a ho-hum moment, but considering just how gay the show is — from the judges to the mentor to the contestants to the audience — it’s rather remarkable how poorly the gays have fared over the years. Last season, every male contest was gay (though one claimed not to be but… I mean, c’mon!); two were in the final three, but lost to a straight woman. Since the beginning, at least seven gay men have made the top three, but none has won since Season 4′s Christian Siriano. He may even be the last truly deserving winner.

That changes tonight. In the second of the two-part season finale, the three finalists are all gay: Austin Scarlett (Season 1′s fourth placer), Michael Costello (8′s fourth placer) and Mondo Guerra (8′s runner-up). Kenley Collins was kicked off fourth.

The fact Kenley and Costello stayed in the running so long — or that either is considered an “all-star” — is another one of the problems with the series: You become acutely aware what flashes-in-the-pan some of these designers were, and that they got further on the show than their talents would bear out. (Costello continues to steal others’ ideas, then drape a goddess dress to eke through.)

Mondo was the deserving loser a few seasons back, and Austin has become such a fun personality over the years (especially after his travel-fashion series with Santino Rice), so our loyalties are divided. But we’ll be watching for sure.

So … who do you hope wins?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Happily Divorced’ debuts Wednesday; ‘Love Handles’ gets lesbian couple tonight

Actress Fran Drescher’s real life inadvertently turned into a story like one of the sitcoms she has performed in. A few years ago, her producing partner and husband of nearly 20 years, Marc Jacobson, announced they were divorcing because, it turned out, he’d been gay all this time. Drescher took the news like a champ (publicly at least), supporting Jacobson and her legions of gay fans with a shrug of “What can ya do?”

In true Hollywood fashion, though, she turned her personal tragedy into the stuff of comedy for her new sitcom, Happily Divorced, which premieres Wednesday on TV Land.

In it, Drescher plays Fran (big stretch), a Los Angeles housewife whose husband (John Michael Higgins) reveals after 18 years that he’s gay. How could she not have known? He did all the floral arrangements for their wedding. But the economic downturn has made the breakup far worse: He’s still living in the house they cannot afford to sell, while she ventures out into the dating world.

Happily Divorced is, like Drescher’s signature sitcom The Nanny, a bright and airy confection with some unfortunately familiar jokes sandwiching some of the truly clever ones. But Higgins (familiar for his Chris Guest mockumentaries) is a gifted comedian, as are her parents, played by George Segal and Rita Moreno. And Drescher herself a bizarrely likable woman despite that annoying accent.

There are few great sitcoms around anymore — Modern Family and 30 Rock spring to mind — and even fewer great three-camera shows, such as Big Bang Theory. Happily Divorced doesn’t approach any of them in quality or laughs, but it does have a breezy sense of humor about gay issues that’s neither insulting nor bitter. It’s a start.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Fighting the normalcy bias

David Webb

Gas pump sticker shock brings home some hard lessons we all need to learn

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

After months of ignoring it, sticker shock at the gas pump has finally registered in my consciousness. And that moment of enlightenment has led me to do a little research about economics.

I now know that I’ve been acting exactly how the experts predict the average consumer will when faced with an unprecedented personal experience.

It all started when I filled up my gas tank at a service station in Oak Lawn the other day, and the tab came to more than $60 for just a few drops more than 15 gallons.

It occurred to me as I drove off that using a credit card at self-service pumps could lead someone to be blindsided in a big way when the monthly bills arrive.

I drive a modest four-cylinder sedan, so I don’t even want to consider what people who drive big gas guzzlers are paying to fill up — not to mention the shock that could be in store for them at the end of the month.

To put things in perspective, I started driving when I was 14 and at that time — I’m talking about nearly a half-century ago — gas cost about 33 cents per gallon. If I’m figuring correctly, I think that’s about a 1,200 percent increase in my lifetime of driving.

Admittedly, talking about price increases that have occurred over a 50-year period, the increase might not seem so radical. But just a little over a decade ago, gas cost less than $2 per gallon. It cost me less than $30 to fill up a similar car’s gas tank back then.

If it were only gas that had increased in price, it might not seem like such a big deal. But everything that we require to go about our daily lives, such as groceries and clothes, has increased just as dramatically.

Even the price of beer, which one needs in order to cope with the stress of all the other high prices, has skyrocketed.

We’ve all been warned for a long time by people who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s that hard times could be coming. But most of us never took those predictions seriously.

After my gas pump experience the other day my research revealed that my delayed awareness of the seriousness of the situation is not abnormal. In fact, it is a condition that is known as “normalcy bias.”

Basically, what that means is that if a person or group of people have never experienced a type of disaster or other traumatic experience, they tend to discount the possibility of it ever occurring.

I assume that’s why — despite the repeated warnings that prices for gas and everything else that depends on energy for its production and distribution would be going through the ceiling — that so many of us have ignored the threat.

It’s clearer to me today than it was a week ago that all of us could be on the brink of making some pretty severe changes in our lifestyle to cope with the economic hardships that appear to be on the horizon. Considering the numbers of people who are unemployed, surviving on food stamps or even homeless, there’s a real crisis out there that most of us just don’t fully comprehend.

What’s really scary is that all of the states and local governments are bankrupt and are quickly becoming unable to help support people who are in trouble. The federal government is in the same shape, and the dollar is losing its value quickly.

An even scarier scenario is that many people live beyond their means and amass big debts that will crush them should they become unemployed or lose a paycheck for any other reason.

Again, someone who has never lost a job or been unable to find one may not realize that it could indeed happen to them as well, according to the “normalcy bias” theory.

One of the examples of “normalcy bias” afflicting a whole group of people reportedly occurred in Germany in the 1930s when Jewish people who had lived in the country for generations failed to realize the dangers they faced from Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Party. These intelligent, affluent, accomplished and sophisticated people simply were unable to comprehend what was about to happen to them.

Some things are out of our direct, individual control as regards what could happen to the economy. But there is something that everyone probably needs to do in troubling times: I now remember financial experts on talk shows recently advising people to get out of debt, stay out of debt, start foregoing some luxuries, build a strong cash reserve to take care of basic needs and fill pantries with nonperishable foods.

Until my moment of awareness at the gas pump the other day, I might have considered such a plan to be a little alarmist, because like most people I know, I’ve never gone without anything. But that could change.

Now, it just seems like good common sense.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative press for three decades. Email him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright

OWN and ‘Becoming Chaz’

When I first heard that Oprah Winfrey was starting her own network — aptly called the Oprah Winfrey Network or OWN — I was expecting something like Lifetime or even The Hallmark Channel. Who knew we’d end up with a cross between Logo and Bravo and CNN?!

OWN is the home, of course, of Lisa Ling’s “Our America” series which has had installments so far featuring transgender people (“Transgender Lives”) and ex-gays (“Pray the Gay Away”). And today, I saw for the first time a short trailer about “Becoming Chaz,” a documentary on Chastity Bono’s transition to Chaz Bono which will include interviews with Chaz’s gay icon mom, Cher. It premiers in May on OWN

Here’s the trailer. I know I’ll be watching.

—  admin