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Bobby Brown: Why I Can't Stop Rooting for the New Edition Star and Former Mr. Houston

Bobby Brown: Performing is the only thing he knows.

Bobby Brown would really appreciate it if you'd go see the Heads of State show on July 16 at the Celebrity Theatre. Seriously, he'd really like the opportunity to perform for you — personally.

Whatever you may think of Bobby Brown — as the former Mr. Whitney Houston, as a washed-up R&B singer turned reality TV star, or as someone you may not have heard of at all — he wants you to know he's willing to do whatever it takes to reintroduce himself as an entertainer.

Because, as Brown tells me over the phone, performing is all he knows.

After two decades in the spotlight for everything but his music (no one would blame you if you viewed his appearances on CMT's Gone Country and VH1's Celebrity Fit Club as the last pulses of energy from a dying star), it's easy to forget that this guy was on the top of the world in the late 1980s, when he owned R&B, thanks to "My Prerogative" and other hit singles from his second album, Don't Be Cruel.

Maybe that's why I find myself cheering for Brown, wanting him to bounce back from the tough life he created for himself since his career peak.

Brown knows he's made some mistakes. And you sense that one of those mistakes was ever getting involved with Houston.

Substance abuse issues are seemingly part of any interesting musician's story, but when you combine drugs with a marriage to a megastar — with diva issues, at best, and full-on insanity, at worst — let's just say it might not be a great idea to have your life taped for a reality show. Brown ended up the sidekick in his own show (Bravo's Being Bobby Brown) as Houston ran wild, diminishing her husband's role to that of well-meaning punching bag. And it made for great unintended comedy.

Now, of the two of them, Brown seems to be doing a better job of bouncing back from the marriage. It's time for — as if in a bid to prove F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong about second acts in life — Brown's comeback.

The Heads of State show — largely promoted as "The '90s R&B Summer Jam" — is essentially a New Edition reunion without the guys from Bell Biv Devoe. (Sure, I'd love to hear BBD's "Poison" because they are the guys from New Edition that really mattered, right?) New Edition have reunited a few times in a various forms since their early-'80s heyday and 1987 reboot (minus Bobby Brown but with Johnny Gill).

Brown was in for a while, then out again, then back in. New Edition's most recent album, 2004's One Love (Brown was absent in the studio but, oddly, he rejoined the group for the tour) was released on Bad Boy, but Puff Daddy's boost really didn't pan out, probably because they chose the wrong single to release first. The record received little publicity.

So, the whole Heads of State concept makes a lot of sense: hire a halfway-decent band, some backup singers, put the three guys whom most people associate with New Edition onstage for two hours performing their hits, and just wait for the middle-aged women to break down the venue's doors. It's not a complicated idea, which is why it works. The guys are playing only a few shows a month, so you're not likely to see a road-weary performance, and though they don't exactly look or sound like they did back then, let's be honest — you've put on some weight, too. Let's not kid ourselves, but a few extra pounds aren't going to keep anyone at the Celebrity Theatre from having a good time, right?

While Gill and Ralph Tresvant would probably be worth checking out on their own ("Rub You The Right Way" is a jam), you're buying a ticket in large part because of Bobby Brown's being there. He reached the top with his up-front sexuality and endless swagger. Sure, he was a little angry back then, but he was still fun.

Now, maybe you're wondering whether Brown will do something unhinged and sort of crazy — and it's a decent bet that he will. After all, he seemed to feign throwing out his back at the first Heads of State show last year in New York City. But, by the end of the night, you'll likely have a little more respect for Bobby Brown as a performer.

"Tell your readers to be ready to have a great time on a Friday night," Brown says at the end of our call. "I've lived, I've loved, I've fought, and somehow I'm still standing. I'm just glad people want to pay to see me do what I do, and that's be an entertainer."

Love him or not, no one can argue that point.


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