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Whitney Houston begins controlled ‘comeback’

Whitney Houston, who hasn’t released a record since an unremarkable Christmas album six years ago, has technically been here, but it’s going to take more than a week of publicity to call this a comeback.
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Maybe it’s telling that Whitney Houston sings the phrase, “don’t call it a comeback, no, I been here for years” in the song “Salute,” the final track in her new album “I Look to You,” which drops Aug. 31. The singer, who hasn’t released a record since an unremarkable Christmas album six years ago, has technically been here, but it’s going to take more than a week of publicity to call this a comeback.

To be fair, perhaps the bar should be set not at comeback height, but one that sets a watermark for a rehabbed image. Houston still hasn’t shaken the bizarre one she helped create by telling Diane Sawyer in 2002 that she doesn’t do crack because it’s “cheap” and went on to say, “I make too much money to ever smoke crack.” This week, Houston sits down with Sawyer again, but the interview won’t be live. The same goes for her interview with Oprah, which will broadcast Sept. 14.

“We’re not going for the any-press-is-good-press way of thinking, here,” said one handler. “We want her (Houston) to have a chance to answer questions, but be comfortable doing it. Pre-taped interviews work best for that.”

Whether talking image makeover or comeback, there’s the matter of singing. And between her new album, which is highly produced, and her much-touted “Good Morning America” performance, which is going to air as a pre-tape, it’s tough to say whether The Voice still has her voice. As far as the pre-tape goes, her handlers have said it’s because Houston isn’t a morning person, but behind the scenes, sources say Houston’s vocals can still be shaky, and there’s a heavy reliance on backing tracks.

Houston’s label Arista seems to believe a comeback is possible: Arista dropped the album in time for it to be in Grammy contention, and they’ve done their part in attracting a new crop of younger fans by bringing Akon, Alicia Keys, and R Kelly as collaborators on the album. Which makes it clear: Houston might have been here all along, but if she’s going to stick around as a recording artist, the final verdict is going to rest on how she performs in the coming weeks.

Team Kate infiltrates Jon Gosselin’s Vegas partyJon Gosselin hosted a pool party over the weekend, but not the kind you might expect from a father of eight — one with swimmies and toddlers and the like. Gosselin’s party was in Las Vegas, at the MGM Grand. In one of the few good publicity moves he’s made, Gosselin’s plus-one wasn’t his girlfriend — he brought his mom.

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Not that you’d be able to pick her out of the crowd — People magazine reports that about 2,000 people showed for the gathering. Also in attendance were partygoers who shouted “Team Kate,” according to the magazine.

As for Kate, she was in Pennsylvania hosting a pool party of her own with the kids. In what might be her best publicity move in some time, she invited the bodyguard, who she’s been rumored to be involved with, and his wife. Next up for Kate: co-hosting “The View,” Sept. 14 and 15.

Horror-ble end to summer at the box officeHorror, Nazis and aliens: that’s apparently what we’re in the mood for at the movies during these last days of summer. This week’s No. 1 was indeed “The Final Destination 3-D.” Its $28.3 million opening put it above “Inglourious Basterds,” which brought in another $20 million. That was better than expected — many industry analysts thought there’s be a larger second-week drop. The other horror offering of the weekend, “Halloween II” came in third, pretty far ahead of “District 9,” which was fourth. If we’re going to move away from the dark themes at the theater, the box office burden will fall on the duo of Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper, who star in the rom-com “All About Steve.”

Courtney Hazlett delivers the Scoop Monday through Friday on Follow Scoop on Twitter: @ courtneyatmsnbc.