What Mariah, Beyoncé and J-Hud Owe Whitney Houston

The BET Honors program recaps the diva’s accomplishments just in time for the 25th anniversary of her groundbreaking debut album. But it’s been a long road for Ms. Houston since she set the stage for today’s pop divas.

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She looked serene and comely on the album cover: lips parted seductively, hair slicked back and a strand of pearls encircled her thin neck. The peach border around the picture complemented the light, creamy color of her dress, which draped across one shoulder. The young singer’s name was in a stately brown font, all caps, right above the inviting picture: WHITNEY HOUSTON.

In the winter of 1985, the New Jersey star’s self-titled debut hit the streets and soon became a blockbuster, eventually selling 25 million copies worldwide. The album, No. 1 on Billboard’s pop album chart for 14 non-consecutive weeks, even entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest-selling debut by a female artist. Whitney, the rail-thin daughter of gospel-soul great Cissy Houston and cousin of divine pop diva Dionne Warwick, set a new precedent in pop, particularly for female performers. For better or worse, young diva wannabes have been wailing and stretching their ranges to the skies ever since.

And to mark the 25th anniversary of the LP that changed modern pop divadom, Sony-BMG, which owns Arista, has released a deluxe edition of the album. It includes a clearly remastered version of the original 10-song set, five bonus cuts and a DVD featuring videos and interviews from Whitney and Clive Davis, her Svengali who has overseen the highs of her career.

We revisit her ground-splitting debut just months after Whitney launched her pop comeback with I Look to You. Last night, she was given the entertainment award on the BET Honors awards program.  Looking elegant in a mocha-colored gown, her voice low and raspy, Whitney gave a slightly overwrought acceptance speech. But before that, she stood near the stage, wiping away tears and cheering on gospel singer Kim Burrell and pop sensation Jennifer Hudson as they belted "I Believe in You and Me" and "I Will Always Love You," respectively. Both singers gave rousing, diva-worthy performances, something we haven't seen from Whitney in years.

Her new CD, a half-hearted affair that tries to awkwardly reposition Whitney as something of a dance-club diva, entered the Billboard charts at No. 1, thanks to the splashy media campaign that preceded it. There was Whitney on Good Morning America, looking stylish but sounding strained and hoarse. Whitney on Oprah, chatting with the talk-show queen about smoking the strongest weed money could buy while husband Bobby Brown, who of course was also high, spray-painted evil eyes all over the bedroom walls.