Former Arista Records chief Clive Davis ? the man behind Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and countless other superstars ? still has regrets about the one artist that he let get away.

Speaking before a packed house at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium for NBC's upcoming 25th anniversary Arista special (airing May 18), Davis publicly apologized to singer Melissa Etheridge for rejecting her original demo tape. "Even though we're celebrating the successes tonight, I have to say that rejecting Melissa was the biggest mistake of my career," said the veteran record producer.

Etheridge, among the many performers paying respect to Davis on the upcoming special, clearly has gotten past the rejection. "Even though I'm not part of the Arista family I came out to celebrate Clive," she said. "I think he is the last of an amazing kind of musical business man, musical genius who really works with the artists."

Other highlights of the star-studded evening include Davis dancing in the aisles to Santana's "Maria, Maria," and the always-quirky Whitney singing along in her seat to Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs."

By the way ? don't tune in to the NBC special expecting to see a less-than-stellar performance by the unpredictable Ms. Houston. Says cousin Warwick: "Whitney looks fabulous and she's going to blow everyone away with how great she sounds."