ABC News Interview of Janet Jackson Enough to Make You Cringe

Nov 20, 2009  •  Post A Comment

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.


  1. I absolutely enjoyed the show. You should take your grief of Michael’s passing somewhere else. Janet has every right to do an interview whenever she wants. There was nothing sensational about the interview. She was negative in any way of her brother or her other family members. Exactly what is there to complain. She isnt releasing a new album, its a greatest hits? And she has been silent for 5 months.

  2. My apologies, i meant to say “She WASN’T negative in any way. And contrary to other’s opinons, Janet has a strong fan base who would have tuned in regardless if she mentioned her brother or not, and how respectful would it have been for her not to discuss Michael in her first televised interview since his death? She not be working in honor of him? Should she go into hiding? It’s funny how someone can have an opinion on what she should be doing, when you arent even related to a Jackson. Does anyone tell you how to conduct business in your household? With you family?

  3. I liked the interview, it was nice to hear from Janet and LaToya, I’d like to hear from Jackie, Randy, Rebbie, and Marlon. Sure there could have been more discussed about her relationship with Michael and why she said she was closest to him but she was obviously hurting, which I can understand. I must have been a real shock to all of them to lose him that suddenly, even more so than his fans because he was family, he was a brother and a son.

  4. Hillary, what a terrible view of Janet’s motives. As if Janet is trying to make money off of Michael. Excuse me, but Janet has worked hard to make a name for herself, which clearly she has done, without riding the coattails of her famous brothers, especially Michael. Why would this change with MJ’s death? Janet is not going to stop doing her thing because Michael passed. If things were vice versa, would you expect Michael to stop his career forever? Give it a break, lady. Terrible. Like jlove30 mentioned, how would Janet do an interview and not mention Michael in this time? And let’s not forget, the majority of the interview was about her own life anyway. Obviously, being Michael’s closest sibling and having so much in common with him, she will be asked questions about him. It happened when he was alive, despite the fact that she tries to avoid speaking of him publicly. So, let the woman choose to openly discuss her brother if she wants to. He died, after all… And that’s her family. She can say what she wants. Janet never needed Michael to make a profit. She’s one of the top-selling pop artists of all time. This article of yours is disgusting.

  5. I wasn’t surprised that she said he ordered her to call him by his first name when she was little, he is a scary person. I think he is a creep from what I’ve seen a heard him say. He just scares me a bit. Who does he think he is ordering his child to not call him daddy and to call him by his first name, he must have done that with all the kids because they all called him by his first name.

  6. Your article almost accepts the bogus proposition that being wealthy precludes one from experiencing real pain. The bizarre corallary to this argument is that poor people are in constant misery. I cringed reading this essay.

  7. Carswani, did you read this essay at all? It’s very respectful to Janet and chastises the journalist for such a rotten, disjointed interview, as well as the announcer for his ridiculous voiceovers. Janet can only answer what she’s asked, and has no control over the editing. As for Michael, Janet has always been fiercely loyal to her family; I’m surprised she even said that much. She owes Michael’s fans NOTHING.

  8. Hilary, what an insightful and well written article. I’m in complete agreement with your comments. I’ve decided that the interview could have been completed in under 2 minutes. Ms. Jackson has always shared very little information about anything and takes quite a while to say the obvious. She is a strong performer, but tends to appear tense and withdrawn when asked to answer important questions with candor. I mean with regard to Joe”…could be extrapolated as a little abusive.” Hmm. Does SHE herself acknowledge his abusive nature?? Difficult to discern.
    I wish Janet explained to what extent the family had intervened to help Michael. He also was not an addict in the traditional sense, because there were no drugs other than sleeping aids found in his system at the time of his passing. In addition, what did he do or say to demonstrate denial, and why did the family not dig further to help him, even if he had or would have put up a fight?
    I truly feel I learned very little about Janet’s thoughts and feelings as an individual, which might have helped me understand and relate to her as an artist. However, I am pleased that she is enjoying her work and is looking very well.
    As for the post who said that Janet does not owe Michael’s fans anything, consider this. The advertising leading up to Janet’s interview specifically mentions her answering questions about Michael Jackson. She basically grew up in the industry and was not oblivious to the fact that part of that interview’s wide appeal would be the “Michael” component. I would never have watched it to hear her have a little casual chit chat and dance around issues. Also, for the record, if Michael had not paved the way, there most likely would have never been a Janet Jackson, the “recording artist.” The Jackson 5 built something that ensured her an opportunity.

  9. I thought the interview was fine. Janet explained in an interview years ago that Joe asked her to call him Joseph because he was her manager and it was not a good idea to say “Daddy” in those business settings. I was surprised when she said she didn’t know why he told her that, but no big deal.
    I am not sure why children calling their parent by their first name is such a big discussion. That’s not that unusual. I never did but several of my friends do and my best friend’s son calls her by her first name and he adores the ground she walks on.
    Furthermore, in her book, Katherine says that Michael called her Kat. He did use Mother (which I think is very formal) as well but he used her first name.

  10. To the Janet critics, she lost her brother Mike, we lost our music icon Michael Jackson. There’s a big difference between the man and the image. Janet and MJ were close, and she knows him better than any of his fans. Give her some respect. The MJ fans are out of line, they feel as if MJ and the Jacksons owe them something, are that they have to act a certain way. MJ spent his whole professional life trying to appease his fans, and he never found happiness. So give him and Janet a break. You want to complain about Janet, complain about his legions of fans who made it impossible for him to live a normal life, like walk down the street without a disguise, or allow his children to walk without masks. MJ was so loyal to his fans , that he was this beautiful black man who felt the need to make himself look more European through plastic surgery. For a long time his own community berated him. So, I ask you what more do you want from him and Janet? You got what you wanted, a CD, concerts, videos, music. Other than that, MJ and Janet owe you nothing. Janet is right in doing her interview, and not dispeling anything about their relationship.

  11. Janet is still so beautiful.

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