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Night before the night

Talent, power and bling converge at record mogul Clive Davis' pre-Grammy bash.

February 12, 2007|Ann Powers | Times Staff Writer

A strange thing happens when the scales tip in a room, and the celebrities outnumber the less visibly rich and powerful: The famous faces start to look almost ordinary. That was the case Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton, where record exec Clive Davis held his annual pre-Grammy bash.

Drop a napkin and you'd hit a pop queen, bling-tastic producer or American Idol; head toward the balcony, and a scruffy platinum rocker would sidle up beside you, poking his BlackBerry. Pretty soon, the din of fame caused a kind of hallucinatory state in which Scott Weiland seemed inseparable from his Velvet Revolver band mate Duff McKagan, only a beard distinguished Dave Grohl from John Mayer, and the silver-clad ingenues -- Carrie Underwood, Fergie, Christina Aguilera -- formed a wall of blond against the backdrop of brunets: Rihanna, Ciara, Vanessa Minnillo and, on the male side, Chris Brown, Ne Yo and Ludacris.

Whitney Houston, announcing her "Cavalli!" on the red carpet, shone with reinvigorated charisma, though she declined her date's rumored request for her to perform. Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks showed why supermodels earn that title, the former resplendent in white, the latter in an odd dashiki thing, but still adorably tough dancing to the floor show.

And then there was Al Gore, standing dead center in the huge room as the moguls and pop icons lined up to shake his hand. Perhaps he was there to begin the networking phase for his summertime "Live Aid"-style concerts for environmental consciousness.

The Senegal-born R&B star Akon appeared early on the bill of mostly young stars. Others included Aguilera, performing a few numbers from her arena show; Underwood, whom Davis called "extraordinary"; and the Black Eyed Peas and Pink, both subbing for a fever-stricken Justin Timberlake. (Smokey Robinson also took an impromptu turn, driving the baby-boomer-heavy room into a frenzy.)

Davis himself spoke between performers, at one point remembering the Atlantic Records pioneer Ahmet Ertegun, who died late last year. Motown founder Berry Gordy introduced the evening with a paean to Davis that dubbed him "Old Man River": "I don't know which one will keep rolling along longer," he said.

Nobody could deny the ascendance of Davis' newest diva. Jennifer Hudson, the Golden Globe winner and likely Oscar champ for "Dreamgirls," closed the night with "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."

The crowd was on its feet almost before she began, with Diddy and other power players waving handkerchiefs as she entered in dignified gray. She hit every note with bell-like clarity despite her huge delivery. Davis asked for one more song, and she obliged with her other big "Dreamgirls" moment, the less operatic "I Am Changing." Her poise and finesse gave a hint as to why Davis' beloved Ms. Houston may have opted off the bill this night.

ann.powers@latimes.com

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