Not a bad start for someone who took no formal vocal training and reads only a little music. But as the daughter of gospel and soul singer Cissy Houston and the cousin of pop diva Dionne Warwick, Whitney has some serious genes going for her. At age 15, she was singing backup alongside her mom for the likes of Lou Rawls and Chaka Khan. More coaching came when she joined her mother's nightclub act.
Houston, who is also a model, has an apartment near her parents' New Jersey home, though she won't be seeing much of the state for a while. She embarked on her first national tour in June, opening for pop singer Jeffrey Osborne. She plans to headline in the fall. Her 45-minute set is very straightforward. "God gave me a voice to sing with and when you have that," says Whitney, "what other gimmick is there?"
Beer in hand, Bret Easton Ellis is discussing what kind of screenplay might be made from his best-seller, Less Than Zero. "I'm afraid Hollywood will want to turn it into some sort of mainstream film," he says. "I'd be really pissed off about that." Ellis may sound like just another jaded author, but how jaded can a person be at 21?
In Less Than Zero Ellis spins a sordid tale of gang rape, drugs and homosexual prostitution in an upper-crust L.A. high school, as seen through the eyes of an East Coast college freshman home for Christmas vacation. Ellis, who just completed his junior year at Bennington (Vt.) College, says his first novel is not autobiographical. But he does draw on his years at the exclusive Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., where he grew up. "I took notes endlessly," he says. "I was an observer." A Bennington writing program helped him transform his high school diary into the 208-page book.
Ellis' parents, like those of Zero's hero, are separated; his father is a real estate investment counselor and his mother is a doyenne of charity work. Bret has completed a book of short stories and is at work on another novel. As for Zero, he says, "I hope parents will read my book as a warning. I don't think teenagers will understand it, and the ones who are in it, well, I don't think they would read it anyway."
When 11-year-old Whitney Houston sang her first solo in church she was petrified. "I stood there stiff as a board," she says, "but I sang this song and the people went crazy." Now 21, Houston has conquered stage fright, taken her three-octave voice to the pop life and is still driving people crazy. So crazy in fact that they boosted You Give Good Love, a song from her debut album, Whitney Houston, to the No. 1 spot on the R&B chart.