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Mariah Carey pays heartfelt tribute to late pal Whitney at BET Awards

Mariah Carey stunned music fans at the BET Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday night (01Jul12) when she stepped up to lead a tribute to Whitney Houston, which featured performances by the late star's grieving mother Cissy and Chaka Khan.

The newly-blonde R+B superstar, who once duetted on record with the tragic singer, received a standing ovation at the Shrine Auditorium as she stepped up to the mic to offer her thoughts on the passing of her friend, who died in February (12).

She said, "The first I heard Whitney's voice I was mesmerised like the rest of the world. Just an unknown, budding singer myself, I was captivated by the power in her range, the richness of her tone and her unique ability to wrap a lyric in emotion.

"We were backstage at the Grammy Awards and we exchanged glances; I was in awe, a tiny bit scared because, hello, there was a couple, a few rumours out there that we had some kind of rivalry, and one thing we all know is that Whitney was not to be toyed with.

"We first worked together on Prince of Egypt, our Oscar-winning duet, and we got to spend a lot of time together... and we really got to know each other as people, not divas - OK, maybe, occasionally it did get a little diva-ish, but that was just for laughs."

Carey added, "She was a hilarious person with a cutting sense of humour, she was real and she kept it real and that's why we got along so well... If you really knew Whitney you couldn't help but love her."

The singer then fought to keep her composure as she recalled the last time she saw her late friend in London last year (Jun11): "It was business as usual - laughter... and jokes galore. Even then folks were surprised to see us sitting right next to each other, clearly enjoying each other's company."

She then choked back tears as she concluded, "I miss my friend. I miss hearing her voice in laughter, but we'll always have the music. We'll always have that voice we fell in love with."

Carey's heartfelt speech made way for an uplifting BET Awards tribute performance featuring Monica, Brandy and Houston's brother Gary, but it was gospel legend Cissy Houston who stole the show with an emotional rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Beyonce, who had dedicated her Best R&B Female Artist award to "my angel Whitney Houston" earlier in the evening, was one of many stars caught crying in the audience as Cissy Houston belted out the classic ballad.

The lengthy tribute concluded with Chaka Khan's I'm Every Woman, which was also one of Whitney's signature tunes.

The late star's acting career was then acknowledged by her Waiting to Exhale co-stars Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon and Loretta Devine.

Houston was among many late stars who were the subjects of tributes at the ceremony - Nick Ashford, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Heavy D and Robin Gibb were also honoured during brief musical interludes.