Open Mic

ABC News Interview of Janet Jackson Enough to Make You Cringe

Hillary Atkin Posted November 20, 2009 at 12:02 PM

It was Janet Jackson’s turn to shine, and the pop megastar obviously put a lot of thought into who she would spill to in her first televised interview since the tragic death of her brother Michael nearly five months ago.

That’s why it was such a jarring experience to watch her Wednesday night on ABC’s “In the Spotlight with Robin Roberts.” Ms. Jackson was classy, revealing, charming, honest — even as Roberts lobbed cringe-worthy questions like, “What’s your favorite body part?” and more probing ones on her current romantic status.

The timing of the big-time get was no accident. Jackson’s new album was released the day before, she’s kicking off the American Music Awards Sunday night on ABC, and a “sneak peek” at her new video closed out the show.

The program offered viewers a tantalizing view of Jackson’s Malibu home, and was non-linear at best, flying around from topics like Jackson’s early days as a television actress in shows like “Good Times” to her secret marriage to Rene Elizondo to whether she’d ever met Dr. Conrad Murray. Segments were punctuated by a smarmy announcer — better suited to a show like “True Hollywood Stories” reading inane copy like “Next: losing her brother, but finding herself.”

After showing Roberts a display of family photographs -- including one of Michael and his children shortly before he died -- Jackson admitted almost off the top that she often smiles as a protective mechanism. And despite the serious nature of most of the interview, she was true to her word, flashing a mesmerizing grin throughout the show.

Jackson herself — dressed in a conservative cream-colored dress and glittering geometric gold earrings, was riveting, mainly because she’s purposefully and wisely kept herself scarce. Yet there was little new information. She was in New York when she got the fateful call about Michael collapsing. She didn't leave town right away, not knowing how serious it was. He used to call her "Dunk." She called him Mike.

But just when things were starting to get insightful, as when she revealed that her father ordered her not to call him Daddy when she was a very young girl, that he forced her to drop acting for singing or that she didn't celebrate a birthday until she was 23 years old, Roberts’ (or the editor’s) apparent ADD would kick in and the subject would be changed.

Maybe this wasn't really an ABC News production, as it was long on assumptions and short on facts — and there was heavy emphasis on Jackson’s weight issues that she seems to have struggled with since childhood, yet no discussion of how she’s managed to always get back in center-stage shape.

 Roberts inquired about her “booty,” and Jackson revealed that former long-time record producer boyfriend Jermaine Dupri made her feel very comfortable in her own skin, leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions after Roberts elicited they were actually no longer together — even after Jackson admitted that she adored him and “loved him to death.”

There was a mention made of Jackson’s quickie first marriage at age 18 to singer James DeBarge in order to escape her family and that it ended because of his drug abuse, which was rather defamatorily equated with Michael’s — without any other information.

Quick sound bites, but no details, on how the family tried to stage interventions with Michael increased the amorphous haze around that part of Jackson’s legacy, in contrast to his on-point performances in “This Is It,” which his sister said is too painful for her to see.

MJ fans were no doubt disappointed not to hear more substantive discussion about Janet’s relationship with her older brother — although there were many adorable old photos and video clips of the two together. Still, her grief was palpable, as was her anger at Murray and her reaction to the fact that her brother died from an overdose of Propofol. “Serious, heavy. None of us knew,” she said of his usage of the intravenous hospital anesthetic.

Take her grief out of the equation and despite her strict upbringing, the rocky love life, the struggles with body image, the interview proved there’s no reason to pity Janet Jackson. To paraphrase a notorious Joe Jackson comment about Michael, she’s smiling all the way to the bank.