Will Mariah and Whitney's comebacks succeed? Now that Britney is taking time off, Evan Serpick speculates on the chances of Carey and Houston returning to fill the pop spotlight
Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston
Credit: Carey & Houston: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

Will Mariah and Whitney’s comebacks succeed?

Distressed baby-diva Britney Spears’ recent decision to take six months off to ”regroup” couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for some in the music biz. After all, there are two mature divas (both now well rested) who are preparing their comebacks and could use some time in Brit’s spotlight. We’re talking, of course, about Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. How will they fare? Is America ready for their return? Here’s our best guess.

With a single hitting radio this week, Whitney is the first of the drama-drubbed duo to enter the comeback-o-rama. You’ll remember that Houston had a problem with canceled shows, reported drug busts, and rumored spousal abuse at the hands of hubby Bobby Brown. When she took the stage at Michael Jackson’s comeback concerts last fall, she looked so emaciated and ill that CBS scrambled to alter the footage while some proclaimed that anorexia and drug addiction had left her on death’s door.

If she’s hoping to make people forget the past, Houston still has a problem. Her new single, ”Whatchulookinat” (produced by Brown), does everything but systematically list her travails: ”Messing with my reputation/Ain’t even got no education/Trying to mess with my concentration/Don’t even have a clue of what I’m facing/All you know you need to stop it/Defaming my name for a profit.”

Okay, here’s rule No. 1: Try your best NOT to remind your audience of why they left you in the first place. AT NO TIME should you make a reentrance bitching about how you were victimized by the system that made you a star. Michael Jackson did this once, in ”Leave Me Alone,” and look what it’s done for him. To wit, ”Whatchulookinat” is getting no love at radio and critics are thrashing it (Entertainment Weekly graded it an F — ouch!). Let’s hope that when the album comes out in September, Whitney will exhibit the style, grace, and talent that set her apart in the first place. But we’re not betting on it.

Mariah, on the other hand, recovered from one of the worst years in the history of pop music (including a contract buyout and a personal meltdown) by retreating to Capri, gathering a competent cadre of hitmakers (Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Jermaine Dupri, and man-of-the-moment Irv Gotti), and writing songs that, by all accounts, have little to do with the tawdry events of her last year.

Carey’s first single will hit radio in September and a full album is due Dec. 10. Most promising: The buzz is building that this is the welcome return to Mariah’s balladeering roots.

So, Britney, if you’re listening, here’s the scoop: Take time off, rebalance, and concentrate on the music. You might not have the vocal talent of these golden-voiced vets, but if you learn from their steps — and missteps — you’ll be well prepared to hit us, baby, one more time.