Interviewing Michael Jackson.
It's easy to judge based on the image of a person. It's even easier when we don't "know" them personally. We draw conclusions based on what the popular media tells us and surprisingly it has a profound effect on us. Having been in broadcasting for over 20 years, I can attest to the power of media. If we tell you the sky is falling long enough and put enough "experts" on the air, you're eventually going to buy into it.
This is exactly what happened to Michael Joseph Jackson!
After hearing all the news and seeing all the "experts" talk about the greatest entertainer of all time, I felt compelled to write about the "Man in the Mirror." It amazes me that people can get on TV that have had NO interaction with the King of Pop and draw conclusions on who or what he was.
In the summer of 2008, in a very plush section on Beverly Hills, I had a chance to sit down with Michael Jackson one on one for an exclusive interview. We'd been working on getting this interview for well over two years. To put in gently, Michael was gun shy over the media and didn't trust them and when you look at what "we" did to him how could you blame him? We went through the seven gates of hell in order to get a one-on-one with this kind, gentle man. We had to sign waiver after waiver and when it was all said and done, the date, time and location was set.
We were putting together an MJ retrospective that would be broadcast on many major radio stations across the county and around the world. We were told we would have 30 minutes with the King. Now I must admit preparing for the interview I was worried because the "Ryder" as it's called in show business was unlike anything I've ever seen. Basically a "Ryder" is a list of wants, desires, dos and don'ts on behalf of the artist. After reviewing it, I thought for sure I was going to come face to face with the biggest freak of them all.... Oh how wrong I was!
The "Ryder" basically said we had to be 10 feet from MJ at all times, we couldn't touch him, we had to take our shoes off and put "booties" on our feet, we were not allowed to give him anything, we had to sanitize our hands before entering the room and the one that really got us was that we had to refer to him as "King Michael"! So imagine reading this and thinking to yourself of how you're going to pull off a legitimate interview without coming across like an ass! The King Michael.. Get real! What's worse, this wasn't a joke! This was a real document that we had to sign with penalties in excess of a million dollars if we broke the "rules of engagement"!
The night before the interview my entire team was talking about what it was going to be like? After all my crew were seasoned broadcast professionals. We've interviewed everyone from Super Bowl champs to the president and never gone through anything like this before. Needless to say we were a little worried and nervous if we were going to be able to pull it off, especially after going through all the trouble to get the interview!
We were asked to be at the interview location at noon. We were given a room number and a "code" to get through security. By the way, the code... "MJJITK". To this day we still don't know what it means.
After a twenty-minute search of our bags, briefcases and persons we were lead into a room. It was a medium-sized room with gorgeous furniture, classical music playing softly and the drapes closed tight with all the lights on. We were told "Mr. Jackson would be right in". When the security chief told us that we were taken aback. We had just went through a security check more intense then the Secret Service gives when interviewing a president and now we're left alone in his main sitting room waiting for the man himself.
About 15 minutes into the wait, we could hear MJ talking and laughing. He was asking about one of his children and whomever he was talking to was telling him about the child running after another sibling and getting mad because they couldn't catch up. He found that funny and the laughter that came from him was laughter from the soul.
The giggling fainted off and we heard a cough and from the left side of the room which lead to the master bedroom, Michael Jackson appeared by himself dressed in black jeans, a red t-shirt, his hair perfect and very little make up. As he approached we all stood up and the first words out of his mouth was, "Hello, I'm Michael Jackson", he voice so soft but yet with authority.
After the nervous introductions he asked us where he wanted him to sit. I told him anywhere would be fine. He asked if we wanted anything and we declined and thanked him for the opportunity to have a one on one conversation and he did something that totally blew me away. He thanked me for taking the time to come and visit with him. I was floored at that moment. I knew this man wasn't anything like the "Ryder" or the press played him to be. Before me was the most talented man in the world with a heart just as big and soul to match.
We started the interview and it was a typical interview with the basic question on his career and where he's been and where he's going. He took his time with every answer giving honest open answers. During the interview he laughed, joked, made fun of our audio tech because he was wearing a UCLA hat and always looked me in the eye.
I knew we only had thirty minutes so I set the pace and completed the interview with 4 minutes to spare. I thanked him for the interview and he asked me if I had somewhere to go. I told him we were going to see some of the sites and what come out of his mouth next shocked us all. He said that we didn't have to rush off; he had some questions about broadcasting that he wanted to know if we could answer. The King of Pop, asking us to stay.
Of course we did and our conversation went from radio stations and why they play the music they do to the promotions to our kids to his kids to his childhood, our favorite food, his favorite food and everything in between. It was like talking to a best friend that you haven't seen in years. He was relaxed, very open, at times emotional, which in turn made us emotional because of his pure honesty over delicate subjects.
About two hours into our meeting, a man walked into the room and informed MJ that he needs to wrap it up because he has another interview within the hour. He turned to the huge brick of a man and said, "They can wait, they can't do the interview without me."
This brought us to a discussion that makes me want to slap everyone who trash talks this man and gives opinions over media reports instead of the truth. He looked down at his shoes with his legs shaking as if they were dancing in tempo and asked us if we ever felt like a prisoner? He went on to say that all of his life he never had the chance to do anything for himself; he always was made to have someone else do it. Even at 49 years old he still had the chains of his childhood bound to him in a way that prevented him from being anything other than the King of Pop.
Three and half hours had passed and the whole time I was praying that our audio guy was recording every second of what is without doubt the highlight of my career. A middle-aged woman walked into the room and said, "Michael one of the children cut open a knee while playing". His response was genuine and I'll wait until I post the audio to let you hear it for yourself! He was truly an amazing dad that loved his kids!
As we were saying our goodbyes he gave us his personal email address and asked for ours. We had some memorabilia we bought in Hollywood and asked if he would sign them. He asked were we got it and we told him we had just bought it and he said "no-no that won't work" and called for one of his staff. He instructed the staffer to give us our money back for everything we bought and to assemble gift bags for each of us plus our spouses and children and then he signed everything we had and we said our goodbyes. As he went around the room saying goodbye I couldn't get over how real this man was. He was grateful that we took the time to stop by. He got to me and I extended my hand and then I thought of the "Ryder" and all the money I was going to have to pay if I touched him and before I could say anything he hugged me and whispered in my year that it was a great interview and thanked me for not bringing up the scandal with the allegations of sexual misconduct with a child. I had chills from the tip of my hair to my toes and just like that he was gone!
Twenty minutes later a man came into the room to escort us out and he had a cart full of MJ memorable that included jackets, more signed 8x10's, cd's, dolls, DVD's and so much more. 22 bags in all well worth six to seven hundred dollars apiece and then he handed each one of us an envelope that had the money we paid for the merchandise.
I know this story doesn't go into the details of what we talked about. We're working on getting that transcribed and a link to our site so you can listen for yourself what we experienced and by the way our audio man got it all!
Michael Jackson was the most real, honest, loving human being I've ever met. He wasn't a monster, wasn't a freak, didn't look that weird, had the gentlest of souls and cared about his fellow man. When you read the transcripts or listen to the raw audio you'll hear a man that wants to change to world and make it a better place but what he doesn't realize is, he already has and that comes to proof in death more than life.
He wasn't anything like the media made him to be. Yes he was small and looked fragile but looking back I don't think he could have been anything less because of the world he had to live in. The man had every move he made investigated under a microscope his entire life. He didn't have a childhood, never had the real love of a woman of the freedom to be a man.
His children were his life. If the months after the interview he would email me and I would email him and he always talked of his kids and how much they meant to him. He would talk about the tour he was planning in London and how he hoped to pull it off and if he did how it would impact his kids. He was always worried about his actions and how it would affect his children. He talked about getting in shape and how he was looking onward to getting back on stage one more time.
When the news of his death went worldwide I was sad and cried like I had lost my brother. To know him was an honor.
The media and what they've done and said about him since his death makes this interview so much more special to me. I laugh when they say the things they do because they never had the chance to know the man, not the legend but the man.
I had my doubts. I didn't believe he was "innocent." I thought he was a freak and thought this interview was going to be the biggest cluster and a chance to say.. "yea.. He's weird all right".. but instead I found a angel from heaven that God gave us for a short time to open our eyes to the good in all of us and what can happen when a select few take the spotlight and twist it to make him look dark and evil when all along his wings were spread never giving up the will to fly away!