Noon Central: The much-anticipated Michael Jackson memorial, scheduled to begin at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, is about a half-hour late getting underway as the Jackson Family makes its way to the stadium from a private, hour-long Jehovah's Witness ceremony at the Forest Lawn Cemetery. (Though Jackson's mother Katharine reportedly has purchased a plot, it's unclear if her son will be buried there.)
ABC seems to have the best access, but the efforts of anchor Charles Gibson to kill time waiting for the ceremony to begin are absolutely painful. And Jackson hagiographer turned "Night Line" host Martin Bashir is nothing short of sanctimonious and insufferable.
12:30 Central: Things finally get underway as Jackson's casket is wheeled onstage by his brothers, each wearing one sequined glove, while the Andrae Crouch gospel choir sings in the background. The group was part of the ensemble that Jackson put together to record the backing vocals for "Man in the Mirror."
Jackson family spiritual advisor Pastor Lucious Smith speaks first, calling Jackson "an idol, a hero and even a king.... Michael Jackson was and always shall be a beloved part of the Jackson family and the family of man."
Smith adds that the memorial, taking place at the same venue where Jackson had been rehearsing for the London concert dates that were to begin later this month, will "celebrate his life."
12:45 Central: Mariah Carey performs, singing in an unusually understated and powerful style, handling the high parts of "I'll Be There" as R&B singer Trey Lorenz performs the lower parts. On his recording, Jackson sang both, covering a three-octave range.
Queen Latifah takes the podium. "When Michael Jackson sang and danced, we never felt distant," she says. "We felt like he was right there for us."
She goes on to read a poem by Maya Angelou with the recurring refrain, "We had him."
1 p.m. Central: Of the next two musical acts, both close friends of Jackson, Lionel Richie delivers a heartfelt version of the modern spiritual, "Jesus Is Love," which he originally recorded with the Commodores, while Stevie Wonder plays a heart-rending, stripped-down, piano-and-vocal version of "They Won't Go When I Go."
In between, Motown founder Berry Gordy offers some intimate personal recollections of the Jackson 5 auditioning for his record label, and how the Jackson brothers used to play baseball with his children. He also notes that Jackson didn't "just raise the bar, he broke the bar," and he concludes: "He was the greatest entertainer who ever lived."
1:15 Central: Basketball stars Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson pay tribe to Jackson's philanthropy, and Johnson tells a funny story about visiting Jackson and being shocked to realize that the musician enjoyed eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, just like he does.
Here's an interesting music-business footnote: Johnson concludes by thanking the city of Los Angeles and AEG for putting on the memorial. AEG was to have promoted the London concerts, and it stands to lose tens of millions of dollars since their cancellation.
1:22 Central: Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson takes the stage, backed by the house band and a gosel choir, and tears through an inspired and uplifting version of Jackson's "Will You Be There," from the "Dangerous" album (1991).
The only misstep in this gorgeous performance is the inclusion of the taped monologue by Jackson, a maudlin touch: "In our darkest hour/In my deepest despair/Will you still care?/Will you be there?/In my trials/And my tribulations/Through our doubts/And frustrations..."
1:25 Central: The Rev. Al Sharpton recalls the Jackson family's climb from humble beginnings in Gary, Ind., to the top of the music world, and remembers meeting and befriending Jackson himself at the Black Expo in Chicago. He goes on to pay tribute to Jackson as a unifying force in racial politics: "He created a comfort level where people who thought they were separate became connected through his music."
It's a good point, but Sharpton, as he often does, goes a little too far when claiming that Jackson made people "comfortable enough" with him as an African-American celebrity to later embrace Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods... and to vote for Barack Obama.
1:34 Central: John Mayer, the white easy-listening rocker inexplicably beloved by and sought after as a collaborator by many African-American musicians, delivers a guitar-driven instrumental version of "Human Nature" from "Thriller."
1:39 Central: Brooke Shields, another former child star who grew up to date Michael Jackson for a time, notes that captions of the couple together often said "an unlikely couple" or "an odd pair... but to us, it was the most natural of friendships. Michael always knew he could count on me to support him or to be his date."
1:48 Central: Michael's brother Jermaine sings an understated version of "Smile," a.k.a. "Smile Though Your Heart Is Aching," the song Charlie Chaplin wrote for the 1936 film "Modern Times," which Shields just noted was Michael Jackson's favorite song.
1:53 Central: Martin Luther King III recalls how his father always said be the best of what you are. "Michael Jackson was truly the best of what he was."
2:05 Central: Like so many politicians, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D - TX) is talking a lot -- a whole lot -- but she's really not saying anything.
2:08 Central: Usher, one of the modern soul men most obviously influenced by Michael Jackson, sings a relatively straight version of "Gone Too Soon," another song from the "Dangerous" album. It's one of Jackson's more melodramatic tunes, and Usher doesn't rescue it from the pathos of the original.
2:14 Central: Smokey Robinson takes the stage after a video clip of the Jackson 5 performing "Who's Lovin' You" with Michael on lead vocals. "I wrote that song. I thought I sang it," Robinson says. But after Jackson recorded it, "I wanted to check his birth certificate," because he couldn't believe a 10-year-old kid could invest so much emotion in the tune.
2:20 Central: Things have got to be winding down: Shaheen Jafargholi, age 12, is onstage now singing his version of "Who's Lovin' You," which he rode to fame by performing on "Britain's Got Talent." Smokey Robinson doesn't deserve to hear this.
2:24 Central: Jackson choreographer Kenny Ortega, who was working with the singer at the Staples Centers during the rehearsals for the London shows, introduces what was to have been the backing ensemble for those concerts. They start "We Are the World," and are soon joined by several of the earlier performers and Jackson siblings (including a very low-key Janet, who's stayed far from the spotlight since her brother's death) and his children as they segue into "Heal the World."
It's interesting that, if enough of it exists to yield some entire performances, AEG did not use some of the video footage allegedly shot of Jackson himself at those rehearsals. That footage could turn out to be either one of the most valuable or most disappointing documents in the history of popular music.