The multiple Grammy winner – her first win, in 1975, was for best new artist of the year – told PEOPLE at Sunday's Warner Music Group post-Grammy party that she took a dim view of Amy Winehouse's awards sweep at the Grammy ceremony earlier in the evening.
"I don't think she should have won. I think it sends a bad message to our young people who are trying to get into this business, the ones who are trying to do it right and really trying to keep themselves together," said Cole, 58. "We have to stop rewarding bad behavior."
Of Winehouse, 24, who is currently in rehab in England, Cole says: "I'm sorry. I think the girl is talented, gifted, but it's not right for her to be able to have her cake and eat it too. She needs to get herself together."
On the seriousness of Winehouse's troubles, Cole – who over the years has battled her own substance-abuse problems, successfully – observes, "I mean, she could die. This isn't something that's cute and fun just to throw around in the press. The girl really has a problem, and I think for those of us who have been in the business long enough, we know the sacrifice it takes. This is about discipline and hard work, and you don't get to just do your drugs and go onstage and get rewarded."
Performance 'Fine'In all, Winehouse won five Grammys – including record of the year, song of the year and best new artist. She also rocked the crowd inside Los Angeles's Staples Center with a live-via-satellite rendition of "You Know I'm No Good" and "Rehab."
"Her performance was fine," surmised Cole. "I don't take anything away from her talent, but I just feel like she's stepping into a place that she hasn't earned yet."
As for whom Cole, whose new jazz CD will be out in August, would have lavished with Grammy gold, the singer replied, "Rihanna, even Beyoncé. "I just feel like they're ready to go the long haul. You can tell how hard they work, they're great people, their heart is in the right place. These are the people we should be praising, these are the people we should be encouraging."
She added, "And the others, we need to help them."