With her sparkling dress paired with five-inch heels, black hair curled into ringlets and lips glazed red, you’d be forgiven for doing a double take on meeting tribute performer Belinda Davids, thinking she really was the late, great Whitney Houston.
Hitting the notes of the hit song “I’m Every Woman” at the opening of her tribute show on Wednesday night, South African singer Davids danced her way to the middle of the stage at Dubai’s Madinat Theatre.
“I am actually very nervous. But it’s all good energy… I was told [it’s] a hard audience to please which will make me work a little bit harder,” Davids told Al Arabiya before the show’s opening night.
Davids, along with her musical crew, is breathing new life into Whitney Houston’s greatest hits in “The Greatest Love of All – The Whitney Houston Show,” a tribute to the diva, produced by entertainment company Showtime Australia.
Show producer John Van Grinsven explained that the show will “make you laugh, and cry,” adding that it engages the audience.
“Whitney and Belinda on the stage together [gives] nice emotion - that’s what gets people. In the end she will do ‘I Will Always Love You’… and that soul and that voice comes out,” said Grinsven.
Becoming the Star
Davids explained that her love of music was sparked by her brother’s copy of a Teddy Pendagrass album. Pendagrass was an American R‘n’B singer and songwriter who popularized the song “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” in 1972.
“When I was a young girl my brother had a Teddy Pendagrass LP and Whitney sang a song with him called ‘Hold Me.’ When I heard that song I knew I wanted to be her, sound like her, dress like her, look like her, hair and all. And from that time on, that record was all I listened to. I even tried singing other songs like she would. And the ball kept getting bigger and bigger,” she told Al Arabiya.
Davids started performing professionally at the young age of 14, in small venues in South Africa.
Before her big break, Davids also sang as back-up for various internationally-known artists, one of which was “Pretty Girl Rock” R‘n’B singer Keri Hilson.
Davids got her own big break in 2012, when she impressed talent scouts with her Whitney-esque vocals in an audition for the show she currently headlines.
Grinsven explained to Al Arabiya English that he had to hold auditions in 11 different countries and screen over 15,000 candidates in his search for the next Queen of Pop.
“When I got to the last day, I thought “I’m not gonna’ find what exactly I was looking for,” he said, “I was looking for a voice, a voice that Whitney Houston was, I was looking for the voice but they also had to have the look, and the style, and everything else. I had so many people who could sing – great singers, brilliant singers, but they didn’t have the soul and the heart. When [Belinda] came over for the first time, my hairs on the arms and the back stood up and [I said] “wow this is what I have been looking for.”
“I didn’t even realize it was that big. I thought, ‘ok it’s just another audition for another show’,” said Davids.
Once she got the role, she realized it was more of a challenge than she had expected, the singer said.
“As you know Whitney was a stylish, glamorous performer and I have to fit these shows,” she said. “In the show there is no lip-syncing and I have to perform for two hours live, so daily practice is my main recipe.
“It’s a [big pair of] shoes to fill. The challenge is having the poise that [Whitney] had; for her it came effortlessly – I have to work on it, to have that voice… it’s a lot of work. Whitney Houston had presence and so being able to pull off vocally what she did and have poise and presence, it’s a difficult thing. But she had that thing where she would stand there and just sing and not do a thing – that’s challenging.”
Davids has had some risky experiences trying to portray the Queen of Pop, admitting she almost slipped in one of her performances while wearing tall heels.
That personal touch
Although she is a tribute performer, Davids said that she still adds a personal touch to her performances.
“I’m not Whitney Houston... I have to bring a little bit of myself, which you will see. It’s not all Whitney Houston.”
Davids adds that if she could have met Houston before her untimely death, she would thank the diva for being an inspiration.
“Thank you for giving me the understanding of music, because music is there, it’s everywhere, we love music… Thank you for [giving me] someone to look up to.”
Houston died in Feb. 2012 at the age of 48. She was found deceased in the bathtub of her Beverly Hilton hotel room where she has been staying as a guest, hours before she was to attend a pre-Grammy gala.
Davids said she was deeply saddened by the diva’s unexpected passing.
“I wish I had the chance to meet her. I met Bobby Brown, even sat down with him, but never met her. And that saddens me. So when she passed it was pretty hard on me,” said Davids, “I bawled. I cried because this is the woman I idolized - now what do I do, who am I supposed to look up to?”
It seems Davids will always love her idol, which is evident in her powerful performance in the tribute show, which is set to run in Dubai until the end of this week.