Whitney Houston fills the O2 hole left by death of Jackson

Comeback concerts mark American singer's return from drug addiction

It was billed as the ultimate comeback tour, but when Michael Jackson died last month from a suspected heart attack at just 50 it was not only the millions of fans that were left heartbroken. The King of Pop's death also meant one of America's largest entertainment giants suddenly -needed to find a replacement for Jackson's 50-date tour at London's O2 Arena.

Now AEG Live looks as if it has found a pair of highly suitable replacements in the guise of two pop acts with recently troubled pasts who also happen to be relaunching their careers. Reports say the company is on the verge of signing Whitney Houston and Robbie Williams to fill some of the 23 dates Jackson was to perform in early 2010.

Jackson's This Is It tour at the O2 had been due to start on 13 July but he died just as the finishing touches were being made at the dress- rehearsal. Since then, AEG has scrambled to find replacement shows at such short notice. But its plans to sign up big acts to cover the second half of what would have been Jackson's tour in early 2010 seems to have been more successful.

Both pop stars have multi- platinum careers to their names and a musical style well-suited to selling out high-capacity stadiums. They have also both been through turbulent times in recent years and are keen to relaunch their careers after strings of headlines that tended not to revolve around their musical abilities.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Whitney Houston was one of the world's biggest-selling acts, thanks to her soul pedigree and powerful voice which sold records by the bucket-load. Her rendition of Dolly Parton's "I will always love you", the title track for the 1992 movie Bodyguard, in which she appeared as a soul diva alongside Kevin Costner, became one of entertainment's best-selling singles, and the Recording Industry Association of America still ranks her as the fourth best-selling female artist in history.

But Houston's career spiralled downwards after she became addicted to a cocktail of drugs along with her husband Bobby Brown, whom she eventually separated from in 2006. Her slow rehabilitation meant she has not released a studio album in more than four years.

But just weeks ago, she revealed that her new album I Look to You would hit the shops in August. London's Mandarin Oriental hotel was the chosen venue to unveil the new album, feeding rumours that her comeback tour would begin on this side of the Atlantic.

Williams has also had a similarly patchy career. By far the most successful breakout solo act from Take That, who went on to produce a string of popular albums over the past two years, his career has been dominated by mixed reviews and an ongoing contractual dispute with his record company EMI. But a new studio album, Reality Killed the Video Star, is to be released in October, coupled with an expected global comeback tour. AEG is doing its best to claw back as much cash as possible. Although it has lost millions from the empty nights at the O2, it will almost certainly recoup large amounts, thanks to its ownership of high-definition video footage of the dress rehearsals. AEG executives have been screening samples of more than 80 hours of filming to major Hollywood studios with the idea of making a full-length movie. So far, only a brief snippet of Jackson's concert rehearsals have been publicly revealed. That showed Jackson practising a song-and-dance routine at Los Angeles's Staples Centre two days before his death.

A spokesman for AEG would only say: "The O2 talks to as many world-class artists and their teams as we conceivably can. We want every great act to play the O2 and we're very fortunate that artists want to play our building."

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