Whitney’s GMA Day

Maybe it should have been expected: Whitney Houston’s return to a public stage after years away from the business, coupled with an album and a well-reviewed private performance at Clive Davis’ Grammy party, was sure to grab some attention.

But, like the product of so many other PR campaigns, sometimes it’s not the kind of attention intended.

Houston, by most media accounts, did a decent job at Central Park in New York Sept. 1 when she returned to the stage, briefly, for a taping of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” parts of which were aired the next day. But considering Houston has one of the most well-regarded singing voices of a generation, decent is not part of the equation.

“It’s the comeback that wasn’t,” wrote the New York Daily News’ Jim Farber. “Every song Houston performed had a moment where her voice cracked, and throughout her set she treated the high notes the way the driver of a brand new car would a pothole.”

Houston apologized on stage, saying she used her voice too much the day before on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. She was reportedly expected to sing two or three songs but went for four.

Fans who spoke to the media were diplomatic.

“I expected it to be longer. She couldn’t sing. She was really damaged,” one concertgoer told the Daily News. “I’m a little disappointed. I think she was brave to come out with no voice.”

“Everyone falls down and everyone stumbles,” added another fan. “It’s how we pick it up and keep going.”

Gawker.com published one of those single “insider source” stories, where a disembodied voice told the Web site that GMA sweetened her vocals for broadcast.

“Standards and Practices people are doing cartwheels,” the source said. “The company line will be ‘She sounded great to the crowd, so we wanted to correct technical errors that occurred in the process of recording her performance.’”

None of this likely matters when it comes to sales of her first release in seven years, I Look To You, which debuted Aug. 31 and was expected to wrap the week at No. 1 in record sales.