Christina Aguilera pays tribute to Whitney Houston, draws mixed reactions at the AMAs

Lyndsey Parker

Sunday’s diva-heavy 45th annual American Music Awards featured powerful performances by P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato (who brought transgender politician Danica Roem as her date), and even Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Diana Ross. But going into the evening, one of the ceremony’s most-hyped moments had been Christina Aguilera’s tribute to the ultimate diva, the late Whitney Houston, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Bodyguard, Houston’s landmark film that spawned the most successful soundtrack of all time. (The 18 million-selling album also won eight AMA trophies, which set Houston’s still-unbroken record for the most AMA wins by a female artist, with 22 total.)

Introduced by Viola Davis and performing in front of an audience that included Houston’s sister-in-law and niece, Aguilera — understatedly attired in a long black satin gown, slicked hair, and minimal makeup — began her performance simply and stunningly, with the a cappella intro of “I Will Always Love You.” However, midway through, Aguilera couldn’t resist oversinging, as she often does, ruining the big moment of the song with a spree of unnecessary runs and ad libs that almost bordered on parody.

Fans on social media were not kind.

Aguilera regained her footing with a more scaled-back “I Have Nothing” and “Run to You,” the latter of which had a seemingly moved P!nk singing along in the audience. However, some viewers interpreted the look on P!nk’s face as displeasure or disgust, not admiration or awe.

For the choir-backed big finish of “I’m Every Woman,” an anthem definitely keeping in spirit with the girl-powered theme of the night, Aguilera finished strong, thankfully, encouraging the entire crowd to sing along and shouting, “We love you, Whitney! The greatest, my idol! Thank you, Whitney Houston, for being the best inspiration ever!”

Regardless of how her performance came across or was received, there was no doubt that Aguilera had the best of intentions. A lifelong fan, she was inspired by Houston from an early age, winning her first talent show at age 8 with a cover of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” At 12, she sang the Bodyguard hit “I Have Nothing” on The Mickey Mouse Club. And when she was 14 years old, she submitted her recording of Houston’s “Run to You” to Walt Disney Pictures, which led to her biggest career breakthrough when Disney chose her to record the Mulan theme song “Reflection.” Later, at the 2001 BET Awards, where Houston received a Lifetime Achievement honor, Aguilera performed “Run to You,” after which Houston told her, “You’ve done the best rendition of ‘Run to You’ — besides myself!”

The 2017 American Music Awards aired live Sunday from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.