Whitney Houston is back, and she's taking no prisoners.
Houston's new single, called "Whatcha Lookin' At," was leaked to radio stations in New York yesterday behind the backs of Arista Records executives. Pandemonium ensued since Whitney's new album, still untitled, is also still unfinished.
It is scheduled for release, though — on September 17. You read it here first.
"Whatcha Lookin' At," which I heard several times yesterday, is a tasty upbeat slice of R&B that finds Whitney in excellent voice — and in a delicious mood. She co-wrote the song with new Atlanta producers Andre Lewis and Jerry Mohammed. I'm told by insiders that Houston's hubby, Bobby Brown, found the producers himself.
The rest of the tracks on the new album are being produced by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmunds and Dallas Austin. Hopefully, Whitney will also be working this summer with Wyclef Jean, who wrote and produced her big hit, "My Love Is Your Love."
On "Whatcha," Houston angrily rips into the press and others who have chronicled her turbulent personal life over the last few years. To wit, she tells everyone else to get a life so she can get on with hers.
It's a calculated move on Whitney's part, but it works. It works against all good sense, too, because when you first hear it, "Whatcha" sounds like it's not going to be much. But thanks to some clever interlocking melodies, the song has "hit" written all over it.
I was a little shocked that Houston's work in the studio — in Atlanta, in Miami and this week in Los Angeles — had been fruitful at all. Just this week I spoke with someone who has known her for a decade. This person expressed great concern about Whitney's mental and physical well-being. The stories were frightening and sad. It seemed as though she was incapacitated.
But "Whatcha" is evidence to the contrary. People who've seen her in the last few weeks say that Houston is much improved from her emaciated state at the Michael Jackson concert last September.
"That's a long time ago now," says my source, "and she's really pulled it together."
I first met Whitney Houston in 1989, just as her third album was being released. Over the 13 years we've had many meetings, talks and little interviews. She was, and I'm sure still is, a delightful young woman. Let's hope that this begins a new happy phase for her, personally and professionally.
Anyway, "Whatcha Lookin' At" is whatcha going to be listening to in a few days. Arista insiders now say they will probably not take legal action, and let the single have a radio-only life.
If only Sean Penn and wife Robin Wright Penn had stayed a few more minutes last night at the one-year anniversary of restaurant Man Ray, they might have been able to see Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Edward Norton, Stephen Baldwin, Ron Silver, Liev Schreiber, Adrien Brody, Alan Cumming, David Blaine, singer Samantha Cole, rap impresario Damon Dash, Danny Aiello, hairdresser to the stars Frederic Fekkai, socialites Bruce and Ann Colley (who are half-owners of the club) and Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein.
Instead, the frowning Penns — also part-owners of the hot Chelsea club — split when the room started to fill up. They were shepherded out the door by friend to the stars John Sykes of Infinity Broadcasting.
The Penns did get to spend time with Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, but they left too. Also spotted in the room were Austin Powers star Mike Myers with wife Robin, actress Gina Gershon and designer Nicole Miller.
On the way out, an acquaintance asked Penn if he was leaving.
"I'll be back," he vowed, but never did return.
At one point, Gershon — how can I put this nicely? — was very publicly goosing Brody's behind. When asked about it later, she said — as only the feisty and fun Gina can — "I wasn't goosing him. I was telling him where he should get a shot in his butt!"
Also spotted — and this should tell you what a weird, unapologetic world we live in: Julius Nasso, Steven Seagal's ex-producing partner with reputed mob ties.
Nasso was indicted last month along with several alleged Gotti and Gambino family members and associates. Prosecutors claim Nasso was an associate of the Gambino family, and charged him with an extortion scheme that ran from September 2000 to last month.
The scheme included Nasso's brother and alleged Gambino chief Anthony "Sonny" Ciccone. According to the indictment, Ciccone was caught on tape ordering Nasso to demand $150,000 for every film Seagal starred in.
The Gambino associates, prosecutors say, shook down Seagal "by wrongful use of actual and threatened force, violence and fear."
And he seemed so nice at the party. Go figure.
Why is Michael Jackson acting so weird? I'll tell you why: in brief, he's out of money. I got a laugh on Saturday when he said he'd just written a check to someone for "$500 million" — that must have been in Neverland currency.
Tomorrow, the full opera as it was first and exclusively reported in this column: How Michael lost his money, where it is and why Bubbles the Chimp at least never had to live to see it all end like this.