Whitney Houston's Last Big Hit? The Grammys

Sunday's telecast, accented by Jennifer Hudson's tribute to late singer, draws most viewers since Michael Jackson-"Thriller" show back in 1984

By Joal Ryan Feb 13, 2012 6:03 PMTags
Whitney HoustonDavid Corio/Redferns

Whitney Houston's voice lives.

Sunday's Grammys, held in the wake of the legendary singer's sudden death the day before, was watched—and heard—by more people than any Grammys of the last 25-plus years, TV ratings showed.

It was the second-most watched Grammys on record. And it might have been one of the most well-regarded, too.

The Los Angeles Times praised the show's best performances for "channel[ing] a spirit that filled the room, one that transcended genres." The Baltimore Sun called the telecast "mystic" and "profound." The Orlando Sentinel praised its "simplicity and sincerity."

The Hollywood Reporter made note of the night's most divisive moments: the Grammys' decision to enlist Rihanna assaulter Chris Brown as a performer, and Nicki Minaj's decision to mount a "legendarily bad and laughably funny performance."

The Grammys overall got high points for balancing the two main storylines: the farewell to Houston, and the arrival of Adele. The telecast led off with a prayer for Houston from host LL Cool J, and ended with Adele's capper of an Album of a Year triumph.

Jennifer Hudson's Houston tribute, "I Will Always Love You," was, in Entertainment Weekly's judgment, "a performance that Houston herself would have been proud of." PopMatters praised it as a "near-flawless imitation" of Houston's original—a compliment, it insisted, as "Hudson's own personal conviction behind it" made it work. 

Though the Hudson song and Adele's performance, the performer's first since vocal-cord surgery, were the most-anticipated moments of the night, Katy Perry's and Taylor Swift's numbers were watched by the most live viewers, with some 43 million people checking out the show's 9:30 p.m. half-hour.

Overall, the three-and-a-half-hour telecast averaged 39 million, the most since Michael Jackson-"Thriller" mania in 1984, a year before Houston's own record debut.