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Houston Wins With Old News

January 28, 1987|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

Even Whitney Houston couldn't believe it. Winning five American Music Awards for a 2-year-old album. She seemed a little embarrassed during the awards telecast Monday night at the Shrine Auditorium as she wore a path from her seat to the stage to collect the trophies.

Not particularly glib in the first place, Houston quickly ran out of awards-acceptance cliches. After a while, she was reduced to "I don't know what to say."

Apparently she was so pooped from gathering awards that she decided not to go backstage to talk to the media. Or maybe she just didn't want to confront questions about winning a flock of awards for an album that's old news.

With the American Music Awards, you've got to be ready for anything. It's a popularity contest--not, like the Grammys or Oscars, a competition in which quality is judged by your peers.

This is strictly a made-for-television event. Award winners in 27 categories are determined by a poll of 20,000 people representing various ages, geographic locations and ethnic origins. The list of nominees was determined by 1986 chart success as followed by the industry magazine Cashbox.

Still, Houston's victories caught many backstage by surprise. Janet Jackson, whose 1986 "Control" album was more critically admired than Houston's LP, was expected to be the big winner. But after leading the pack with nine nominations, she won only two awards. The other big winner was Lionel Richie with four awards.

During the endless, three-hour parade of stars and semi-stars reading nomination lists and hugging tearful winners, the event that seemed to cause the biggest stir was the appearance of Madonna, who won a video award.

She showed up dressed as--you guessed it--Marilyn Monroe. From the screams of the crowd, it was obvious her fans don't seem to think she's overdoing that Marilyn look. But at least one of her colleagues does. A famous female singer cattily commented at the post-show party:

"She didn't care about that damn award. All she wanted to do was get on TV in that Marilyn outfit. That's all she ever wears. It's like that American Express commercial. She never leaves home without it."

Most of the stars didn't bother to come backstage to talk to the media. The joke circulating was that they didn't want to be out of their seats in case the TV cameras panned their section of the auditorium. After all, loving close-ups in some ways are as prized as the trophies. Some publicists privately admit that the exposure offered by this show, which traditionally receives impressive ratings, is as important to a singer's career as the Grammys.

Though the Grammys are infinitely more prestigious, the American Music Awards, now in their 14th year, have made certain strides, mainly in the area of production values. Back in the '70s, the ceremonies made for pretty awful TV. But the show, produced by Dick Clark Television Productions Inc., has become one of the liveliest, most entertaining of the awards shows.

However, backstage wasn't as colorful as in the past. At the ongoing press conference, the few stars who did show up--including Janet Jackson, the three guys in Run-D.M.C. and Robert (Kool) Bell of Kool and the Gang--didn't have much to say.

Unlike previous years, none of the female stars who came backstage wore outrageous or revealing outfits. But some of the men certainly had attention-getting attire. My personal Worst Dressed award went to the youngsters from New Edition, whose furry, ink-blot tuxedo jackets were an eyesore. They must have the same tailor as Alabama's Jeff Cook, who wore a mind-boggling zebra jacket. Bob Geldof wasn't far behind. The clashing stripes in his ensemble made him look like a walking TV test pattern.

Backstage, the Long-Winded Award went to Barbara Mandrell, who went on and on and on without saying anything significant. The runner-up--Peter, Paul and Mary, honored for their 25th anniversary. The veteran folk singers' nonstop reminiscences about the old days and singing at peace marches were yawners. After a while some writers in the back of the room started quietly singing "We Shall Overcome . . . Peter, Paul and Mary."

An often-heard joke at the post-awards party backstage was that they should cancel next year's show and just televise the party. In terms of stars-per-square-inch, this one is hard to beat. By televising just the party, viewers could see all the stars without having to listen to all the speeches.

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