Whitney Houston on Her Childhood, Her Voice

Dec. 9, 2002 -- Whitney Houston — a singer who sells out concert arenas — first found her destiny when she began holding secret concerts at the bottom of an empty swimming pool as a little girl.

She was about 7 years old, growing up in Newark, N.J.

"In our back yard we had this massive pool, and I would go to the bottom of the pool and I would sing, 'cause it had great acoustics," Houston said in an interview with ABCNEWS' Diane Sawyer. "And at about seven or eight I knew I could … I could really sing, but I wouldn't tell anybody."

But her secret wasn't as secret as she hoped.

"My mother knew it, and she'd go, 'I know you can sing,'" Houston recalled. "I said, 'No, I can't.' She says, 'yes, you can.' And then, she made me do a solo in church. And, there it is.'"

Houston, who became a pop sensation at age 19, is coming back with a new album called Just Whitney. She is not that concerned about how it does on the charts.

"I'm not looking for hit records anymore," Houston said. "Don't get me wrong. I want hit records. And it's cool to have them. But what I'm looking for mostly are songs that inspire people, that really give people hope, and that they truly hear someone who's singing from their soul, from their heart."

A Perfectionist Mom

Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston, was a gospel and blues great who not only had daughter Whitney singing solos in church, but also on her breakthrough appearance on the Merv Griffin Show.

"I'll never forget, I sang "Home," the song 'Home,'" Houston said. But during that performance, her mother was behind the curtains, frustrated at how slow the band was playing. So, she took over herself.

"She directed the whole band, and she's doing the whole thing," Houston said. "It's the funniest thing ever. It's the funniest thing ever."

Her mother went to those lengths because she wanted the performance to be the best it could be.

"She just wanted it to be right for me," Houston said. "Perfect. The best."

Of course, Cissy Houston's daughter went on to become a giant success, at the age of just 19, when she signed a contract with Arista Records.

Vocal Cords Get Tired

In recent years, though the singer's life has been marked by canceled performances and erratic behavior.

In a rare interview on ABCNEWS' Primetime, Houston told Sawyer that she has used alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs at different points during her career. But she said her days of self-destructive behavior are over.

Through the years, her battles with exhaustion, emotional overload, drugs and stresses go straight to her voice, and she is aware of the expectations that go along with having a magnificent voice, Houston said. Fans expect her to sound perfect at every performance, but that isn't always possible.

"Well, people have to understand, vocal cords are only muscles," Houston said. "When they get tired, and they say 'I'm tired,' they don't work."

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