For the love of Whitney Houston
Belinda Davids will never forget the early morning phone call she received from a close friend who lived in the US.
News had just broken worldwide that legendary singer Whitney Houston had died, and her friend had been on the phone to relay the tragic news to her.
Davids was at home in Cape Town. “I was in complete denial about it,” she remembers. “I turned on the TV and waited for the 6am news to come on so I could see whether this was actually all real.”
Houston had been found face down in a water-filled bathtub with drug paraphernalia nearby in her hotel room in Los Angeles on February 11, 2012.
For Davids, it was a terrible shock - the R&B singer had been her icon since she was a little girl. She sang Houston’s music at every chance: at family gatherings, talent competitions and to friends while playing on the street.
Like many young girls at that time, her bedroom walls were plastered with posters and magazine cut-outs of Houston. The singer was the reason Davids chased the dream of becoming a professional singer.
In her community in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape, David's was affectionately known as "Whitney" to neighbours and friends.
“I couldn't walk around anywhere without people grabbing me. I didn't have a career at that time, I had just started singing, and neighbours would grab me and say ‘please sing, Whitney’. That really hasn't stopped until today.”
Shortly after the 48-year-old’s death, auditions opened up worldwide for Showtime’s latest tribute show The Greatest Love of All - The Whitney Houston Show. The Australian production company was on the hunt for someone who could perfectly fit the role of Houston. Davids jumped at the chance.
It took over 15 000 auditions in 12 countries to find the right voice, and finally, Davids emerged as the front-runner.
Belinda Davids portrays the role of Whitney Houston in The Greatest Love of All - The Whitney Houston Show Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency (ANA)
“I went in there with no expectations. I just wanted to do the best I can and to sing Whitney's songs like I always did. I don't think people know just how much I loved Whitney.
“I had the opportunity to go out there and show the world what Whitney meant to me and millions of other fans.
“My idea was not to try and be her, but rather honour her for all the joy she has brought.”
Davids was put through a rigorous three-month course to learn everything there was to know about Houston.
“I went through a very intense process, watching her, watching her sing, and learning every specific thing about Whitney.
"We really broke it down to the hand movements, the nuances, how she carried her notes, her vibrato, how she separated her falsetto from her chest voice, how she walked on stage. It was incredible.”
She had to learn how to perform for hours on end with the striking high heels that Houston wore while she performed. Six years later, the singer has travelled around the globe and has even sung at the iconic Apollo Theatre in New York, on the same stage Houston had performed.
“If I had to tap into how I felt on that day, I get chills just thinking about it. The people who attended the show were Whitney's people, her fans who used to watch her, so it was an incredible honour.”
Next month Davids, a recent winner on the BBC's Even Better than the Real Thing, is back in South Africa for her tour and will perform several shows over 17 days at Emperors Palace, before heading overseas.
Davids can now spend quality time with her two sons. She has been on the road for the past 10 months, and has barely had any time with her family.
“I've managed to separate what happens on stage, to my personal life and when I'm on stage, I do actually feel like her. I do feel like I have that connection to her and part of me does feel like I do become her.
“Something happens when you wear the clothes, when you wear the hair and when you put on the make-up. When I do the songs, I envision her.”