NEW YORK (AP) — There's one important person to thank for Deborah Cox stepping into Whitney Houston's shoes for the national tour of "The Bodyguard." That person would be Whitney Houston herself.
Cox and Houston were label-mates and friends, with the late pop star mentoring the Canadian singer and often telling Cox to put family first.
"I take pleasure in the fact that I did know her. I did have a relationship with her," Cox says. "There was a comradery there. She was a mentor. There was a sisterhood that we shared."
Cox treasures the pivotal time she and Houston shared a Miami studio to record the duet "Same Script, Different Cast" in 2000. Houston came in, kicked off her shoes and, after the song was done, the two chatted.
"She'd always say to me, 'Girl, where them babies at? Where them babies at? When are you going to have some babies?' And it was really literally at the time where I was between albums, trying to figure out when I should start my family," Cox says.
"That really helped to bring me to where I am today, where I have a family, I have a career, I have a wonderful husband, I have a team support system — and it's because of that advice."
Cox says she's honoring Houston's memory with the musical based on "The Bodyguard ," the Oscar-nominated 1992 romantic thriller about a diva who falls for a former Secret Service agent.
The stage version features songs from the movie such as "I Have Nothing," ''Run to You" and "I Will Always Love You" and adds other Houston hits like "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," ''Saving All My Love for You" and "How Will I Know." Houston died in 2012.
Singing those songs is both a responsibility and a pressure for Cox, who made her Broadway debut in Elton John and Tim Rice's musical "Aida" and most recently starred opposite Constantine Maroulis in a revival of "Jekyll & Hyde."
"I know what the expectations are. I know what people want to hear. But also as an actor, as an artist, as a singer, as a performer, I want to be able to deliver as well," she says. "I want people to know that, for me, this role is in good hands. I really take it very, very serious."
Judson Mills, the actor playing the love-interest role played previously by Kevin Costner, says the addition of Cox was a key reason he signed up for the tour and that she has put her own mark on Houston's songs.
"Her energy and her personality is so intoxicating. You can't help but like her, and I really think there's no one else I can think of who can play the role the way she does," says Mills.
The tour kicked off at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse this month. It will make stops in more than 20 U.S. cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Nashville, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Diego and Dallas.