Instead, it became Whitney.
In a coincidence that may wind up boosting the show’s ratings a la the Michael Jackson episode, “Glee” had long ago completed a Feb. 14 episode (title: “Heart”) in which Mercedes (Amber Riley) belts out an emotional version of Houston’s biggest hit, “I Will Always Love You.” In light of the pop diva’s death earlier this week, of course, the number took on additional resonance and, yes, buzziness.
For the record, Riley crushed it, prompting a flurry of tweets, many of which (inevitably) compared her performance to Jennifer Hudson’s at the Grammy Awards and deemed the “Glee” version far superior. (It didn’t help matters that — in another freak coincidence — Goldblum made a joke at Hudson’s expense early in the episode. “No vocal runs — that’s how Jennifer Hudson got kicked off ‘American Idol,’” he advised his crooning husband.)
More will be said about Riley’s “Bodyguard” moment shortly. For now, let’s note that this episode also featured: the introduction of yet another “Glee Project” winner, Samuel Larsen, as dreadlock-sporting Christian Joe Hart; few plot developments other than the announcement that Finn and Rachel now feel compelled to marry in May (?) and that Kurt has an unexpected secret admirer; and a key error — no full musical number for Hiram and LeRoy Berry?!
Let’s run this thing down by the musical numbers.
“Going to the Chapel” — Leroy and Hiram
This barely counts as a musical number considering Mr. and Mr. Berry got to sing a grand total of one line before Hiram made that crack about Hudson and the whole pseudo-performance came to a screeching halt. Such a disappointment. Grade for execution: B. Grade for deciding to keep it brief: F.
“L.O.V.E.” — Tina and Mike
This Jenna Ushkowitz/Harry Shum Jr. duet was cute and buoyant ... and interrupted by frequent cutaways to the rivalry between Artie and Rory over Sugar. The quick edits actually gave the song a nice energy, but also prevented us from seeing more of Tina and Mike dancing, which was a shame. Also, what do those two guys see in Sugar, the McKinley airhead who may have out bubble-brained Brittany S. Pierce? Is it the fact that she’s a cross between Mayim Bialik and Cher from “Clueless”? Grade: A-.
“Let Me Love You” — Artie
Artie’s attempt to serenade Sugar was underwhelming. Maybe it’s the fact that the Mario track he chose is pretty forgettable to begin with, or maybe the choreography just wasn’t compelling enough. Either way, this felt like a yawner. Grade: C.
“Stereo Hearts” — The God Squad
Has the God Squad been meeting in secret for the past two years and discussing, as its members did tonight, the possibility that one of the 12 apostles might have been gay? I don’t know. But with Joe — the Birkenstock-wearing man of Jesus — on board, this small faith-based extracurricular organization (also consisting of Mercedes, Quinn and Sam) now clearly exists and occasionally serenades people at lunchtime. At least they serenaded Rachel on Finn’s behalf in a number that included an entire band and a gospel choir. (Was this “Glee” or the Super Bowl halftime show?) A bit much for a Gym Class Heroes song, but semi-enjoyable. Grade: B-.
“Home” — Rory
Because gay rights wasn’t enough, “Glee” also tacked the hot-button issues surrounding immigration law. Rory (Damian McGinty) claimed that his student visa wouldn’t be renewed, then sang a poignant Michael Buble song that doubled as a farewell to Gleekdom but was really a blatant and effective attempt to woo Sugar. McGinty sang it nicely enough, but the whole thing felt a little deja vu. Wasn’t this essentially “Take Care of Yourself” redux in a way? Grade: C
“I Will Always Love You” — Mercedes
And now, the money performance.
While knocking “I Will Always Love You” out of the park, Riley managed to make herself cry, as well as two almost-grown men (Sam and poor Shane). She sang this — complete with a few “runs,” by the way — with power and, more importantly, a power motivated by genuine emotions that tied in directly to her storyline. Obviously that’s what every musical number should do at its most basic, but it doesn’t always happen on “Glee” these days.
Was this a better version, vocally, than the rendition Hudson delivered at Sunday’s Grammys? It was. But that’s also a hugely unfair comparison. Riley recorded her Whitney cover in a studio and, presumably, had the opportunity to do multiple takes. Hudson sang her tribute live, under enormous pressure and emotional duress, with less than a 24-hour head’s up. “Glee” apples, please meet Grammy oranges. Still, Riley deserves a standing ovation for what she did here.
If Whitney Houston had not died tragically days before this episode aired, this still would have been an achievement. But viewing it within the additional, heartbreaking context of Houston’s death — also acknowledged in the episode’s closing message: “Whitney Houston, 1963-2012, We Will Always Love You” — immediately elevated this moment to the very best one of “Glee’s” entire third season. Grade: A+.
“Cherish” mash-up: The God Squad
Combine The Association’s classic with Madonna’s pop hit and you get a peppy, sweet number made sweeter by the fact that it was dedicated to a smoochy Santana and Brittany. Grade: B+
“Love Shack” — Blaine, Mercedes, Rachel, Brittany, Santana and Kurt
Blaine recovered from that vicious rock-salt slushie attack just in time to lead everyone in a rousing B-52s cover, reminding us that “Glee” is always 10 times better when Darren Criss shows up and starts bebopping all over the place. This number also demonstrated that Chris Colfer is capable of channeling both Fred Schneider and Cindy Wilson, and that the most entertaining all-company performances on “Glee” are the ones where it’s clear how much fun everyone had during filming. That was certainly clear here. Grade: A.