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Whitney Houston Said Mariah Carey Snubbed Her When They First Met

But her fellow diva had a different recollection of their meeting.

Music taste is subjective, but over the last century or so, a few singers have emerged who have been almost universally acclaimed as some of the best ever. Most of them can be recognized by one name: Aretha, Whitney, Mariah, Billie, and Beyoncé immediately come to mind. Recently, as reported by The Independent, Chaka Khan blasted Rolling Stone on a Los Angeles magazine podcast for their "200 Greatest Singers of All Time" list, complaining that their rankings mean that the magazine's editors "need hearing aids." She took special care to call out Mariah Carey making the Top Five, saying that it had to be the result of "payola or some [expletive] like that." She did praise the magazine for putting her late protégé Whitney Houston at No. 2 just behind Aretha Franklin, though, boasting, "I introduced her to the business."

Carey, whose voice spanned a five-octave range in its heyday, has never been far from controversy regarding her fellow R&B divas. Khan's slamming of her while praising Houston is the most recent in a long line of stories pitting the two against each other. The drama dates all the way back to the day the two divas met in the early '90s, a meeting in which Carey supposedly snubbed Houston. Read on to find out what reportedly happened and how they developed a friendship against all odds.

Houston was already an A-List superstar by 1990.

Whitney Houston at the American Music Awards in 1986
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Houston famously broke out at age 19 with her eponymous 1985 debut album and the follow-up, 1987's Whitney. Singles including "Saving All My Love for You," "How Will I Know," and "Greatest Love of All" became instant classics; she broke records with seven consecutive No. 1 singles from those back-to-back albums. Her third album, 1990's I'm Your Baby Tonight, also spawned multiple monster singles from the title track to "All The Man That I Need."

Carey's out-of-the-box success duplicated Houston's rise.

Five months before Houston's release of I'm Your Baby Tonight, the diva landscape saw the arrival of another 19-year-old who was an instant success story. Carey's debut, also an eponymous album, spawned hit after hit the same way Houston's had had a mere five years earlier. "Vision of Love," "Love Takes Time," "Someday," and I Don't Wanna Cry" were all just as instantly iconic to their decade, and their run at the top of the charts made Carey the only female artist to have her first four singles all hit No. 1.

The media couldn't stop comparing Houston and Carey.

The following year saw both singers hitting peak after peak. Houston performed the national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl and was announced to co-star with Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard. That soundtrack, of course, would spawn the best-selling single by a female solo artist in the U.S., Houston's cover of "I Will Always Love You."

Meanwhile, Carey released her second album, Emotions, in 1991 and signed on to appear on MTV Unplugged. That episode would become the gold standard of the anthology performance series. However, as this interview Carey did with The New York Times in 1991 shows, the media was always finding ways to rank the two against each other, bringing up accusations of Carey as a Houston "vocal clone" and noting who outsold who.

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The singers finally crossed paths at the 1992 American Music Awards.

In January 1992, both Houston and Carey were invited to attend the American Music Awards. Houston was given a performance slot, during which she sang a medley of hits from I'm Your Baby Tonight, including the title track, "My Name Is Not Susan," and "Who Do You Love." Carey was on hand to receive Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist award, beating out Houston in the category.

BeBe Winans claims Houston tried to greet Carey.

Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston in 1992
Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In 2020, gospel singer BeBe Winans, a longtime close friend of Houston, claimed that the rumors that Houston and Carey didn't like each other were true, and the rift was all Carey's fault. Speaking on Essence's Yes Girl! Podcast, Winans said he was at the awards ceremony with Houston, who was planning to leave directly after her performance. But before they left, he insisted she properly greet Carey. "You gonna be bigger than all this stuff. I mean, we're going back and forth, and finally, she said, 'Okay, I'm a do it,'" he recalled. However, according to Winans, Carey was not the bigger person, and when Houston put out her hand and said, "Hi Mariah, I'm Whitney," Carey "turned her head like she didn't hear nothing."

Naturally, Carey disagrees with Winans' recollection.

Mariah Carey in 1998
Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Winans' story doesn't sync up with Carey's recounting of the first time she met Houston—in fact, she says the first time they met wasn't at the AMAs but at the Grammy Awards. Speaking at the 2012 BET Awards after Houston's passing, Carey said they exchanged glances, not words, the first time they met. "I was in awe—a tiny bit scared because, hello, I mean, there were a few rumors out there that we had some kind of rivalry," she recalled, per Us Weekly. "One thing we all know is Whitney was not to be toyed with, OK?"

Carey and Houston eventually became friends.

Whether or not Carey snubbed Houston the first time they met, the two eventually became friends and collaborators. In 1998, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg asked the two to collaborate on the lead single for the animated film The Prince of Egypt. The single "When You Believe" became a massive hit, and the two became close as they promoted it together. The two appeared on Oprah, where Houston said they immediately bonded in the recording studio. "When we got together, it was like magic; we clicked, we laughed like old girlfriends," the late star said. At the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, Houston and Carey shared a stage, wearing the same dress and poking fun at the rumors of their feud.

And after Houston tragically died in 2012, Carey had nothing but heartfelt things to say about her so-called rival. "I loved her. We all loved her," she said on Good Morning America (via Buzzfeed). "May she rest in peace … her legend's gonna go on forever."

Ani Bundel
Ani Bundel is an entertainment writer covering everything from celebrities to movies to peak TV. Read more
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