‘The Cosby Show’ Director Doubted a Young Whitney Houston’s Singing Ambitions as Houston Turned Down Role on the Show

The ‘Cosby’ kids are arguably one of the most recognizable television families. The show remains one of the most successful and popular in television history, much of which is due to the kids on the show.

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston 1991 | Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Casting directors offered Whitney Houston the role of the eldest Cosby kid, Sondra. The late singer turned the role down to follow her dreams of singing stardom, something the show’s director at the time did not fully understand.

Whitney Houston turns down role on ‘The Cosby Show’; chooses a singing career

Cosby used his real-life family as inspirations for his television family. The famous comedian wanted five children at various ages to portray a well-rounded middle-class family living in New York. For the role of his eldest daughter Sondra Huxtable, casting directors set their eyes on Houston.

When it came time for everyone to sign their contracts, Houston’s revelation that she would not continue with the show was shocking for the director, Jay Sandrich. Sandrich found Houston’s reason for turning the role down even more puzzling.

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston 1986 | Dave Hogan/Getty Images

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“So we gather in this room with kids from New York in LA and they’re all signing their contracts and this girl we brought back from New York said to me, ‘I can’t sign this contract,’” Sandrich recalls in a 2012 interview.

He continues: “I said why and she said, ‘I wanna be a singer.’ And I said, ‘Yeah ah.’ And she said, ‘I can’t be in every show.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ She said, ‘Well, I have to be able to tour.’ I said, “Well do you have a record contract?’ – [She replied] ‘No.’ [I asked] ‘Have you ever toured?’ [She said] ‘No.’”

Sandrich says he tried to convince Houston of the potential success of the show, but she wouldn’t budge.

“She said, ‘No, I’m gonna tour,’” he says. “I said, ‘Well, who told you that you could sing?’ She said, ‘My mother’…[it was] Whitney Houston.

The Cosby Show debuted in 1984. In 1985, Houston’s self-titled debut album was released, selling over 25 million copies worldwide. 

Sabrina Le Beauf lands the role of Sondra Huxtable 

In the absence of Houston, casting scrambled to find a replacement. They eventually settled on Le Beauf. Le Beauf’s 10-year age difference from her TV mom almost cost her the role.

Source: YouTube

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Sondra does not appear in the pilot episode. She makes her debut in episode 10 of the first season on a weekend trip home from college. 

The character of Sondra is loosely based on Cosby’s eldest daughter, Erika, who is the same age as Sondra on the show. 

Whitney Houston went on to become a successful actress

Despite turning down the role on The Cosby Show, Houston did expand her entertainment profile to include acting, starring in films The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale, The Preacher’s Wife, Cinderella, and Sparkle.

Houston’s career success would also match Cosby’s. In 1988, Forbes Magazine names Houston on its list of top-earning women in entertainment. In a separate list for men, Forbes lists Cosby at No. 2, the Associated Press reports.