“That you’ve been dreaming of...” With the graceful sweep of her long, slender arm lilting my way, those were the words Whitney Houston sang to me when our eyes locked.
I was a lanky 15-year-old at the time. September 1986 at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. I brought her flowers, and I’m pretty sure they were carnations. Classy. I brought a date, Amy Chwojko (and I didn’t bring her flowers), and I was terribly disappointed that our seats were nowhere near the stage. I imagined that after the show, she would absolutely sneak out from behind the stage to meet me. Why not? I brought her carnations. I was her biggest fan. It was a completely plausible scenario.
Whitney Houston was my pop star idol, like she was to so many. The first singer I was ever obsessed with because she was astonishingly beautiful — that face and that voice. In every Grammy Awards show she was nominated, I could hardly contain myself, more nervous than her momma Cissy and auntie Dionne, I’m sure. In my bedroom, my walls were plastered with any poster, record jacket, Teen Beat photos I could find. Whitney represented something to me back then. I identified with her. I felt a connection to her. Perhaps overzealous teenage hormones run amok? My first (female) celebrity crush? Diva worship? Appreciation for a truly gifted vocalist? Probably all of the above.
I remember she opened that concert with Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin Somethin?” prancing across the stage with a giant bouquet of balloons. Think of Pixar’s Up. I swear there were that many balloons, all anchored by Whitney’s tiny frame. And that was about as much dancing as she did that night. It was all about her voice and its crescendo to the final encore and her signature song at the time, “The Greatest Love of All.” This was it and the rebel in me took over. I abandoned Amy, jumped to the floor of the arena and rushed the stage. She was drenched with sweat but she was gorgeous. Pacing back and forth across the stage singing to everyone in the front row. As the song wound to an end, Whitney belted out the final verse, “And if by chance that special place, (eye lock with Whitney now) that you’ve been dreaming of…. leads you to a lonely place, find your strength in love.” I never met her of course. The guard who took my flowers surely pitched them in the garbage immediately. But it was as close as I got and it was enough.
As hokey as the lyrics are to me today, they were a source of strength for me when I was coming of age. There’s something to be said about youth and how music can get you through the crap and the angst of teenage life. My love for Whitney goes beyond her looks and voice, she represented the promise of my future. “The Greatest Love of All” was my “It Gets Better” inspiration in 1986. It reminded me to keep my eyes on the horizon. Always. Thank you, Whitney. You’ll be missed.