Eight months since the death of their most famous relative, Whitney, the Houston family is doing its best to pick up the pieces. Tonight, they debut The Houstons: On Our Own, executive-produced by Whitney’s sister-in-law, former manager, and executor of her estate, Pat Houston. She chatted with ESSENCE.com about the family’s motivations for doing the show — they’ve been accused of exploiting Whitney’s death — Bobbi Kristina’s recent engagement, and the greatest misconceptions about their tight-knit family.
ESSENCE.com: With all the scrutiny that’s already on the Houston family, won’t a reality show make things worse?
Pat Houston: The scrutiny has been on the family for a very long time, but the focus was always on Whitney. No matter what happens there’s always going to be criticism; that’s just the way of the world. We’re fortunate enough to be strong and are able to keep it moving because everyone is going to have an opinion. That we can’t change.
ESSENCE.com: What was the motivation for doing the show?
Houston: It’s just a continuation of all the work that I do. Reality shows are not new to this family — and I’m not talking about Being Bobby Brown. We actually did a reality show a couple of years ago called Power Brokers about five successful women in Atlanta — I was one of them. My husband Gary Houston, daughter Rayah, and even Krissy came onto the show a few times.
ESSENCE.com: A lot of reality shows about Black family life can be a tad messy. How do you think the Houston's will come off?
Houston: Everybody’s reality is different. People with reality shows out there are feeling their reality, whatever that may be. Our reality isn’t theirs, and theirs isn’t ours. We’re just a family that’s standing together. It’s universal — there’s nothing unique about what we’re doing. We’re just another family.
ESSENCE.com: In the first episode [premiering tonight], Bobbi Kristina says her relationship with her grandmother Cissy is “iffy.” What does that mean? Is it because they live so far apart?
Houston: She’s a teenager; she doesn’t have the time. We live in Georgia; Cissy has always lived in New Jersey. There isn’t a lot of time spent together. Krissy was with her mother and they were doing their own thing, Cissy was in New Jersey doing her own thing. So it's different realities for them. But she loves her grandmother very much — she just has never spent a great deal of time around her. That’s what that means.
ESSENCE.com: You appear very motherly towards Bobbi K. on the show. At one point you mention how difficult it can be to deal with her because so many have opinions on her life. What is your relationship like?
Houston: Krissy and I have always had a relationship. Even when her mom and dad were married, “Auntie Pat” was always around. I’m the disciplinarian. I always say it’s a dictatorship, not a democracy, in my household — kids don’t tell me what to do. I’m a lot different than her mother. They were close like sisters. But I’m a disciplinarian — she knows that and she respects that.
ESSENCE.com: Do you worry about her?
Houston: I worry about her in the sense that she lost her mom. I know how I feel about losing [Whitney], so I can only imagine how [Krissy] feels losing her at just 18. Thank God that I have been around for the past 12 years of her life and can help Krissy understand that life goes on. I worry about her in that way, but she’s a good girl who’s had to face a lot of challenges. She’s never had her mother to herself. She’s always had to share her mother with the world. She hears so many things, and everybody’s in her head. There’s no privacy for her, even if we weren’t doing a reality show. I have to be there for her because I know that’s what her mother would want me to do.
ESSENCE.com: We’ve seen that you don’t approve of her recent engagement to Nick Gordon. It’s been a couple of months since that scene was filmed. How do you feel about the engagement now?
Houston: I feel good. They were going through a phase. They have always been close; they lived in the house with [Whitney]. So, you know, when a parent leaves you, who do you run to? The next person you were close to. It was only a matter of time. They isolated themselves from the world, but as soon as they started reaching out and being with their friends, things changed. They’re friends.
ESSENCE.com: Are you saying they’re not together anymore?
Houston: [Laughs] They’re not engaged.
ESSENCE.com: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about Bobbi K. and the Houston family in general?
Houston: That [Krissy’s] over-the-top and she’s an alcoholic — just not true. And the idea that Whitney had handlers that weren’t looking out for her. None of that is true. She had a core group of people that truly loved her and protected her, not enabling her, but just being there for her. [Whitney] came from a very strong, solid family.
The Houston's: On Our Own premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on Lifetime. Will you be watching?