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This time last year singer Whitney Houston was a sweet, sexy rookie whose first album was garnering raves. These days the New Jersey-born Houston, 22, is a musical force to be reckoned with: In January she collected two American Music Awards; in February she took top female pop vocalist honors at the Grammys. Her Whitney Houston dominated the album charts for seven weeks, "Saving All My Love for You" and "How Will I Know" became No. 1 singles, and her concert at Carnegie Hall was a celeb-studded sellout. Little wonder then that of all the personalities rated in our PEOPLE poll, Whitney emerged as the year's most popular new face by an overwhelming margin. With her powerhouse voice, arresting looks and unspoiled demeanor, she's a classy firebrand who appeals to those grown weary of material girls.

Even when she's on a roll, Houston lives more like Marie Osmond than worldlier chanteuses: Mother Cissy, the R&B gospel singer, father John and brothers Michael and Gary are as close to her as ever. Her "lavender apartment," as she describes it, is just half an hour from her childhood home in East Orange, and her only roommate there is Misty Blue, a Turkish Angora cat. "He's the only man in my life at the moment," Houston says. The sultriness that is palpable in her videos isn't part of the quotidian Whitney, who favors jeans and boots. "The only time I feel glamorous is when I'm onstage," reports the sometime model. She may sip Dom Pérignon upon occasion, but the sustenance that sends her into raptures is Cissy's fried chicken. God himself, she says, is her most trusted adviser: "I don't make any moves without Him."

If the last year has been heady for Houston, she isn't succumbing to giddiness. "I'm proud of the way she handles herself," says her father. "When she's onstage she belongs to the audience...but 15 minutes after she's off, she's my kid again."

Whitney—who as a teenager sometimes sang backup for her mom—was cautioned against hubris early on: "We got to ride in limousines, fly from one place to another, the California thing, but Mom made sure it was something we were grateful for—an opportunity we had that others didn't," she remembers.

Even now, Cissy frets about the psychic G forces exerted by sudden fame: "There's so much mess out there—drugs and all that kind of business," she says. "But Whitney is very levelheaded, and I hope and pray...."

For her part the newly minted star says the only troublesome thing about celebrity is being branded as perfect: "I'm not wild about people looking at me as a role model," Whitney says. "What I do have is a talent I got from God. I'm me. That's all." For her growing cadre of admirers, that's quite sufficient.

With what actor would you most want to play a movie love scene?

For our female readers lip burn seems preferable to cheek burn: mustachioed Tom Selleck (10 percent) edged out stubble king Don Johnson by two points. Runners-up were Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone, in that order. Mr. Congeniality honors go to Mark Harmon (PEOPLE'S sexiest man of the year), who landed in the sub-basement of romantic fancy: Both he and Woody Allen scored 0 percent.

Who are the Contras?

Are they a rock band? Are they a breath mint? Are they the family that lives next to the Huxtables in TV land? A little more than half of you weren't sure; the rest correctly identified the Contras as the rebels who are fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Given the opportunity, would you want a seat on the next space shuttle flight?

Up in the air, bird persons. Despite the loss of the Challenger and subsequent NASA misfortunes, 32 percent of you want to count down.

Which of the following people—Joan Collins, Sam Donaldson, Don Johnson, Sean Penn or Sylvester Stallone—would you most like to send alone to a desert island?

Thirty-five percent of you said you'd like to see Joan Collins pack her Vuitton trunks and flounce off to Pitcairn Island. Another 24 percent wanted Sly Stallone to join Amelia Earhart on the Island of Lost Celebs. Surly Sean Penn got the boot from 15 percent, Don Johnson from 8 percent and ABC White House correspondent Sam Donaldson from 5 percent. (Mrs. Reagan, get away from that ballot box.)

Who is your favorite male TV star?

Bill Cosby took top honors, with 18 percent of the vote. The Jell-O pudding pitchman-cum-star of the eponymous NBC series trounced such video heartthrobs as Michael J. Fox, Bruce Willis and Tony Danza (none of whom copped more than 4 percent). Runners-up included Tom Selleck—10 percent—and Don Johnson—who scored 8 percent. To our minds, however, the single most compelling fact was that readers seem to like Philip Michael Thomas and David Letterman, those pop polar opposites, equally well: Each claimed 1 percent of the tally. There's something for everyone in Videoland....

In general, do you think actors and actresses should or should not run for elective office?

For 57 percent of you, the notion of Pia Zadora becoming Mayor of Malibu didn't seem all that absurd. A more conservative 33 percent, however, thought that Pan-Cake and politics don't mix.

Of these recently married or soon-to-be wed celebs, whose marriage is most likely to last?

As most of you see it, Andy and Fergie will probably celebrate their golden anniversary, while Sean and Madonna were voted most likely to go to seed. Your prognosis for Timothy Hutton and Debra Winger is similarly bleak—they collected a vote of confidence from just 7 percent of you (2 percent more than the Penns, 35 percent less than the royals). Curiously, the Sylvester Stallone-Brigitte Neilsen bond ranked as second strongest—14 percent of you think they'll be together when Sly's tottering through Rambo XX. You weren't so sure about the Diana Ross/ Arne Naess or Caroline Kennedy/Ed Schlossberg unions; neither got the nod from more than 11 percent of you jaded souls.

With what actress would you most want to play a movie love scene?

Joan Collins and Cybill Shepherd (each of whom collected 4 percent of the overall vote) are Hollywood's most-wanted love goddesses. Dynasty's bad girl par excellence comes out ahead with men 45 to 54 and with those who live in the South, while the yuppie princess has a stronger appeal to Eastern males and men under 25. Raquel Welch (who shares third place honors with Linda Evans) has a considerable following among singles, and Kathleen Turner is the fantasy woman of choice for college grads. An equal number of respondents—1 percent—wanted to snuggle with Whoopi Goldberg, Pia Zadora, Bette Midler and Shelley Long.

If your parents were retired and couldn't afford to live on their own, would you most likely take them into your own home or seek another solution?

Once again PEOPLE readers prove their eleemosynary impulses: Three-fourths of you who have at least one parent still living would turn over the rec room. Readers under 25 (78 percent) and those with a high school education (77 percent) were the most likely to say they would take parents into their homes; college graduates were less willing to put up with the sound of knitting needles, as were those of you in the Midwest.

Who is your favorite female TV star?

A real cat fight: Perennial fave Linda Evans (who garnered 8 percent of the vote) nosed out upstart Cybill Shepherd by a mere two points and bested Dynasty nemesis Joan Collins by three. Shelley Long, Donna Mills, Mary Tyler Moore and The Cosby Show's polysyllabic Phylicia Ayers-Allen-Rashad fought to a draw for fourth-place honors.

Will Dick Clark ever look older in your lifetime?

More than half of you (58 percent) said you believe you won't live long enough to see Clark's hair turn Dorian Gray.

If you saw a stranger with his fly open, would you tell him ?

On this delicate issue, most (58 percent) opted for discretion and perhaps a quiet chuckle over the poor sot's plight.

Is it generally okay or not okay to engage in experiments that can cause test animals pain or shorten their lives?

About 70 percent said it was okay to use animals to test prescription drugs or any substance that might cause cancer. But almost half, when asked if animals should be used to test whether new cosmetics caused skin irritations, wanted to set the bunnies free.

Is it okay or not okay for the U.S. to arrange the assassination of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi?

PEOPLE'S poll was conducted after the "line of death" incidents but before the U.S. raid on Tripoli. At that time 6 in 10 readers felt it would be wrong to send a hit squad after the terrorist's terrorist.

Should President Reagan's kids just shut up?

A discerning 51 percent of you say that Patti, Ron, Michael and Maureen should simply stuff it.

If you had a school-age child, would you allow him or her to attend a class in which there was a fellow student with AIDS?

6 in 10 of you said you'd raise no objection, while about 3 in 10 would refuse. College-educated readers and Easterners were most likely to allow their offspring to attend class, while high school graduates and readers under 25 were most opposed to the notion.

In general, how do you like your spouse's family?

Here's a heartening tidbit: Three-fourths of you really like your in-laws, and another 17 percent can muster at least some affection for that much-maligned demographic group. Just 2 percent of you admitted to disliking your spouse's family "a lot." (Don't ask us what they said about you.)

What is the acceptable minimum annual income for you and your family?

For almost a fourth of you, it was between $25,000-$34,999. Twenty-one percent had to have $15,000-$24,999 to keep the wolf from the door, and 11 percent needed less than $15,000. Eleven percent couldn't make do without at least $50,000, and a free-spending 1 percent of you said that a million was the least you could live on. (The Marcos family was not available for comment.)

If your demonstrating would bring about change, for which of the following causes would you be willing to hit the streets?

Thirty-two percent of PEOPLE readers declared that they would take arms against the arms race by joining a demonstration for a nuclear freeze. Nearly as many—28 percent—pronounced themselves willing to bring out the placards against legalized abortion. (The pro-choice contingent was somewhat less militant: Just 16 percent said they'd march if given a chance.) A demonstration against apartheid would bring out 12 percent of those who responded to the poll; against a neighborhood drug treatment center, 9 percent. Gay rights proved to be the least galvanizing issue—just 5 percent said they'd publicly petition for equal protection for homosexuals.

Do you think we will make contact with intelligent life from another planet in your lifetime?

Steven Spielberg notwithstanding, two out of three of you aren't scanning the horizons for a real-life E.T.

Who is your favorite actress on the TV show The Golden Girls?

Betty White, you're the one with the bargaining power come contract time: 26 percent of our readers picked you over housemates Bea Arthur (23 percent), Estelle Getty (17 percent) and Rue McClanahan (5 percent).

Whom among these celebrities would you most and least like to have dinner with?

The head of America's most popular television household came out on top once again—just 2 percent of you said you wouldn't do dinner à deux with Bill Cosby. Sorry, Madonna—a whopping 47 percent of our readers deemed you an unappetizing dinner companion. Only William "The Refrigerator" Perry came close: 22 percent said they were daunted by the prospect of seeing Perry tuck into the evening repast. Jackie Kennedy Onassis got the cold shoulder from 16 percent (probably those who remember the Steve Martin joke about her table manners), while Michael J. Fox and Cybill Shepherd were each rejected by 4 percent.

Who is your favorite female vocalist?

In our last poll, as you undoubtedly remember, the delicious Diana Ross (that's Mrs. Arne Naess, to you) wrested the title from the relentlessly popular Barbra Streisand. This year, Babs (with 12 percent) is back on top, but trailing her by a hair is Whitney Houston—the 22-year-old stunner who was all but unknown just 16 months ago. Barbara Mandrell, Madonna, Anne Murray and Dolly Parton bested Ross, who, with 3 percent of the vote, slipped into a four-way tie with Pat Benatar, Loretta Lynn and Tina Turner.

Who would you most like to see succeed Ronald Reagan as the next President of the United States?

Reagan understudy George Bush won this one handily—garnering 22 percent of the vote to runner-up Gary Hart's 14. But the real news was that Lee Iacocca (whose last name, coincidentally, forms an acronym for I Am Chairman Of Chrysler Corporation Of America) emerged as a dark horse: 11 percent of the respondents said they'd be happy to have him in the driver's seat, politically speaking. Jesse Jackson trailed Iacocca by four points, tying with New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

Should Queen Elizabeth abdicate so that Charles and Diana can assume the throne?

Charles needn't worry about making those teed-jious speeches to Parliament just yet—6 out of 10 of you say Mom should continue to wear the crown in the family.

Which is your favorite band?

For the second year in a row, Alabama (which pulled 10 percent of the vote) was on the minds of more PEOPLE readers than any other band. Glenn Miller blasted in from the past to take second place, and the Beatles were close behind—tying with Dire Straits, Huey Lewis and the News, the Oak Ridge Boys, Prince and the Revolution and Chicago.

If a movie is made about Ferdinand Marcos, the ousted leader of the Philippines, which of the following actors should play him: Herve Villechaize, Ricardo Montalban, Charles Bronson, Sean Penn, Divine or Robert De Niro ?

After careful deliberation our readers decided that De Niro and Montalban (who each pulled a quarter of the vote) are equally suited to this demanding task. Improbably enough, you liked Charles Bronson too, and a full 6 percent gave the nod to Fantasy Island's, minordomo, Villechaize, who towered above Penn and Divine.

And which of the following—Nell Carter, Pia Zadora, Madonna, Joan Collins, Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley Temple or Divine—do you think should play the part of Ferdinand's wife, Imelda Marcos?

Collins (with 32 percent) was the woman picked most likely to succeed in the role of the mistress of Malacañang Palace. Elizabeth Taylor (whose everyday sparklers would lend a certain authenticity to her Imelda) got the nod from 24 percent, 6 percent of you favored Pia Zadora and an equal number Madonna. Divine pulled up the rear, ranking behind both Nell Carter and Shirley Temple.

Which of the following couples do you think eventually will get married?

According to 58 percent of you, John McEnroe and pregnant girlfriend Tatum O'Neal eventually will trip down the aisle. But just 40 percent think that Tatum's father, Ryan, will marry Farrah—the mother of Tatum's 16-month-old half brother. You also say the odds are against a Kurt Russell-Goldie Hawn marriage, and you aren't holding your collective breath for Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange. As for Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall, only a fourth of you think that the fecund couple will ever join in holy matrimony.

If you could have someone else's brain for just 24 hours, whose brain would you choose?

Given the opportunity to walk around with someone else's mind, a full fourth of you chose Mr. Albert Einstein's. At 5 percent, John F. Kennedy was a runner-up, followed closely by Ronald Reagan (we know Nancy had something to do with this one) and Lee Iacocca. Jesus Christ/ God was slightly less popular than Lee Iacocca, but the Supreme Being did beat out (in the following order) your fathers, Thomas Edison, your mothers and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Who is your favorite male vocalist?

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tie—Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers, each of whom pulled in 8 percent of the tally. Next, in order, came Bruce Springsteen and Phil Collins (5 percent each), Willie Nelson and Frank Sinatra (3 percent each) and Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Prince, Barry Manilow and Stevie Wonder(all with 2 percent). Perhaps the biggest surprise was Michael Jackson, the man who ruled pop music just two years ago. With one percent of the vote, he's tied with an eclectic band including Huey Lewis, Tom Jones, Luciano Pavarotti and Julio Iglesias.