Whitney Shows, Justin Blows Off Pre-Grammy Bash

Whitney & Justin | Don Henley | Oprah

Whitney Shows, Justin Doesn’t at Pre-Grammy Bash

If the old adage is true — that 99 percent of life is just about showing up — then last night Whitney Houston at least scored some points, while Justin Timberlake failed miserably.

You see, Whitney managed to put on a gown and a fur-trimmed cashmere cape and show up at Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy gala as promised. Timberlake, however, backed out of performing at the show or showing up at all, and did so at the last minute. The given reason: He had the flu.

But the real reason was that the ex-boy bander had performed at a party he threw the night before at a club, finishing up between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. He managed to make Davis’ show sound check, but wasn’t able to replicate what he’d done — and what I’d reported on in this space — on Thursday afternoon.

Click here to see photos from the party.

Ironically, the song he was supposed to sing is called “What Goes Around, Comes Around.”

Luckily, Motown legend Smokey Robinson — who’d come to Davis’s party as a guest — was ready and able to take Timberlake’s place. He wowed the crowd with an impromptu version of the most famous of all Motown songs, “My Girl,” which he wrote for the Temptations more than 40 years ago. Smokey was note perfect; his falsetto glistened under the spotlights in the Beverly Hilton ballroom.

Likewise, the Black Eyed Peas — who also were not the original schedule — were happy to fill in for Timberlake. With all members present including will.i.am and Fergie, the group turned in a lively version of “Let’s Get It Started” without any rehearsal. Timberlake was not much missed at that point.

This year’s pre-Grammy party was almost more notable for the guest list than for the music — even with a spine tingling performance of “And I’m Telling You” from “Dreamgirls” by Oscar-nominee Jennifer Hudson.

As usual, the room was so overloaded with bold faced names that it was almost dizzying. The best moment? Former vice president Al Gore being introduced to Barry Manilow adjacent to where a sullen Houston — with a dreamy look in her eye as she chatted with sister-in-law Pat Houston — ignored them both.

If Houston was saving all her attention for someone else, it was herself. The only time she stood all evening was to accept kudos at her table from Davis on stage. She clapped with wide-open palms and smiled widely, before quickly sitting down again.

Houston left once the entertainment part of the evening got into full swing, however, so there was no way to ask her about the seven songs that sources say have been chosen for her comeback album. The songwriters include Dianne Warren, R Kelly, Jermaine Dupri and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds. Warren’s song is titled “I Didn’t Know How Much Strength I Had.”

Other than Houston, the guest list for Davis’s party was a staggering mixture of new and old, hip-hop and bebop. Where else could you find Puff Daddy (Sean Combs) and rock-and-roll inventor Dion DiMucci? Soul Man Sam Moore and actress Meg Ryan?

From one end of the room to another, even the Us Magazine contingent was represented: Nick Lachey came with girlfriend Vanessa Minnillo, but former father-in-law Joe Simpson was also there with proboscisly ruined daughter Ashlee. Imagine their disappointment when they realized Justin was home nursing a bad case of being 25!

Hollywood's old guard and its new old guard were represented as usual: Bob Daly and Carole Bayer Sager; Larry King and skeletal wife Shawn; Barbara Davis, widow of billionaire Marvin but also now grandmother of bad boy Brandon; Jackie Collins, natch, and Nikki Haskell, as well as Beverly Johnson, Les Moonves and Julie Chen, Allen Toussaint, Jon Voight, David Foster, Quincy Jones, Naomi Campbell, Lionel Richie, American Idol judge Randy Jackson (Paula Abdul was a no show) with protégé singer Van Hunt, American Idol escapee Mario Vasquez, former Timberlake associate JC Chasez and actor Terrence Howard.

Click here to see photos from the party.

And there was record company hopscotch too: Janet Jackson and Dupri arrived separately, but sat together with Dupri’s new boss, Island/DefJam’s L.A. Reid. Will Reid rescue Janet now that her contract with ailing Virgin Records is up? Could be.

You see, Reid told me something amazing: A year-and-a-half after his bitter public feud with Patti LaBelle — chronicled right here in this column — the pair have made up. LaBelle has signed a new contract with the label!

“We talked about it and realized it was all about our egos,” Reid said, disarmingly and charmingly. So Gandhi was right: It’s possible to live in peace!

But even that news wasn’t enough to stop the whirlpool of names: How about Al Jarreau, Dave Koz and Herbie Hancock at one table, Slash at another?

Directors Brett Ratner and Penny Marshall, rapper Nelly, newish Idols Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee, blues Magoo John Mayer, record producer Richard Perry, famed flack Lee Solters, esteemed actress Lynn Redgrave and most of the members of Earth Wind & Fire all poured into the ballroom with glee. Lisa Marie Presley and the singer Pink took a bathroom break together. Everyone ogled Rihanna, a girl who knows how to wear a clingy dress.

And there were some classic moments for Gore too, aside from his Manilow meeting. Songwriter Michael Gore was given the Vice President’s seat by mistake, proving that “Fame” — which the former Gore wrote — is indeed fleeting!

A cigar-chomping Kid Rock, accompanied by a dazzling trophy of a date — chatted feverishly with Red Hot Chili Pepper drummer Chad Smith, who in turn sought out … Al Gore, of course, for a quick talk. It was that kind of night. (And all handled so well by Bill Mancini’s expert and diplomatic security team.)

But it was also the kind of night that belonged to Jennifer Hudson. With Timberlake fallen, she was the solo star of he show. (Someone’s got to tell Christina Aguilera it’s not worth putting on a U.S.O. show if all you can produce is a cacophony. Try singing “Beautiful” instead of “Helter Skelter” without a melody!)

Hudson sang the "Dreamgirls" signature song live for the first time in public — although yours truly, sworn to secrecy, got a nearly private performance of it on Thursday at rehearsal! She also delivered “I Am Changing,” her other — and perhaps even better — “Dreamgirls” knockout punch. These are not the songs she will sing at the Oscars, but oh my, if she did, the ratings would jump through the roof.

Hudson is just starting to sift through songs and producers for her debut album with Clive Davis. I’m told their first choice comes from hip hop star Ne-Yo, who I met last night.

From the picture on his Web site you’d think he was a snarling, unpleasant rapper. Quite the contrary: Full of good hooks and melodies, Shaffer C. Smith’s songs are kind of upbeat, original and fun R&B.

In person, the 22-year-old is a nice kid who sings about “being strung out over you.” Davis — whose ears are nearly never wrong — hears a match with the phenomenal Oscar winner-to-be.

Don Henley Beats the New Kid in Town

It was a good news and odd news night for Don Henley of the Eagles as 2000 members of the Grammy Foundation saluted him at Los Angeles’ Convention Center.

Henley was feted by a clutch of all-star musicians who serenaded him with his songs. Among them: The Dixie Chicks, Michael McDonald, Keb Mo, Sam Moore, Trisha Yearwood, Seal, John Mayer and fellow Eagle Timothy B Schmit.

The event for MusiCares — the fine organization that takes care of indigent and ailing musicians, brings music to the schools, etc. — raised a little more than $4 million. Henley was saluted by Ed Begley Jr., Bernie Taupin and NARAS chief Neil Portnow. Even the mayor was there.

All of them cited his reclamation of Walden Woods in Concord, Mass. And Henley’s continued activism for environmental causes.

Henley himself talked about the Eagles’ upcoming album, their first in 100 years, and a new tour. But shadowing the proceedings was the news that Eagle Glenn Frey was off playing golf somewhere, and that Joe Walsh had backed out of the tribute at the last minute.

It’s only rock and roll, ya know?

There was also the strange business of Jackson Browne being in the audience but not joining in. He wrote the Eagles’ first hit, "Take It Easy," circa 1972.

And there was no sign of Linda Ronstadt, who gave the Eagles their start, or other SoCal associates like J.D. Souther. Equally missing were any other Eagles past or present, like Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon and Don Felder. There was no mention of them either.

Well, you can’t have everything. And in the end, Henley was plenty. The Eagles songbook never sounded so good. McDonald pretty much stole the show with “The Heart of the Matter,” but Moore was hot on his trail with a rousing version of “The Long Run.” (Henley called him “my hero.”)

Keb Mo’s bluesy take on “One of these Nights” was so popular that someone said it could have been released as a single. (As if radio would play it!) The Dixie Chicks turned “Desperado” into a country symphony, and Shawn Colvin was heartbreaking on “The End of the Innocence.”

It was probably the best MusiCares dinner in several years, and the proof was that for once, everyone stayed until the end.

That’s a good thing too because we got to hear Henley give three bravura performances that Justin Timberlake — the, uh, “new kid in town,” — would have given his flu shot for: “Hotel California,” “The Boys of Summer” and “Wasted Time.” All three were gorgeous, spectacular and memorable.

And Oprah Was Here Too

Oprah Winfrey gave a party on Friday night for Mary J. Blige at a place called Boulevard Three. Maybe she didn’t know that she was competing with the Grammy’s big charity dinner.

In any case, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett were her main guests, along with a mostly R&B crowd.

But damn if Tom Cruise didn’t show up — he’s determined to seem hip and/or normal. His new theme song will be Mary J’s “No More Drama”!