With all the pomp and circumstance one would expect from the self-proclaimed King of Pop (and a star-studded guest list matched only by the Oscars), Jackson launched his long-awaited comeback Friday night as his 30th anniversary celebration took over New York's Madison Square Garden.
As promised, Jackson wowed the fans--both with a long-awaited Jackson 5/Jacksons reunion with his brothers, and with his own set of past hits. A who's who of Michael's pals and big-name celebs showed up to see it for themselves, including 'N Sync, Macaulay Culkin, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, Aaron Carter, Nelly, Donald Trump, Teddy Riley, Jill Scott, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Kenny Rogers, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Chris Tucker, Naomi Campbell and Samuel L. Jackson.
But while the tribute to the Gloved One looked invincible on paper, it initially didn't come off as the thriller everyone had hoped for. In fact, parts were downright off the wall (and we mean goofy here, folks).
The show itself lasted nearly five hours and was plagued by technical miscues and stop-and-start delays between the numbers. The complications didn't go over too well with the crowd, who may have expected to see a jam-filled concert instead of something more akin to a television taping. (The Friday and Monday shows will be edited and aired as a CBS special in November.)
The show started with R&B singers Usher and Mya appearing alongside a troupe of dancers wearing African tribal dresses, for a rendition of Jackson's classic "Startin' Somethin'." In the night's first big surprise, they were joined halfway through the song by pop diva Whitney Houston, who brought the packed house immediately to its feet.
What followed was the first in a series of bizarro onstage spectacles. After the opening number and a five-minute break, the house lights finally came up to reveal a portly Marlon Brando lounging in a leather recliner onstage and donning dark shades.
"I'm Marlon Brando," Brando began, in what's become his customary soliloquy. "In any event while your...wondering who that old fat fart is sitting there...I wanted you to realize that in that minute there were hundreds if not thousands of children hacked to death with a machete, beaten to death by their parents, got typhus and died of a disease."
After jarring the audience to attention, the legendary film star then plugged the popster's Website, MichaelJackson.com, while Jackson himself looked on, sitting beside the stage with best pal Elizabeth Taylor.
The first half of the show was dominated by big-name performers doing their takes on Jackson classics, including Shaggy, 13-year-old country prodigy Billy Gilman, Ray Charles and Marc Anthony, who did a rousing rendition of "She's Out of My Life." Destiny's Child, meanwhile, performed its own song, "Bootylicious."
"He's been a huge influence on all of us--especially on 'Bootylicious,' " Beyoncé Knowles told E! News Daily from the red carpet. "I had him in mind when I wrote the song."
Next up, Jill Scott played the Scarecrow, Al Jarreau the Tin Man, Deborah Cox the Cowardly Lion, and Monica was Dorothy as they performed a medley of songs from Jackson's film The Wiz. Gloria Estefan and James Ingram followed with a beautiful duet of "I Just Can't Stop Loving You."
After what appeared to be an interminable break, Liza Minnelli--much improved health-wise since her bout with encephalitis last year--appeared on stage to sing "You Are Not Alone," backed by a full gospel choir walking through the stadium aisles holding candles.
But while the stars came out on this night to honor the "entertainment ambassador," some fans initially felt shorted on the entertainment--especially given the ridiculous cost of tickets (ranging from $228 for nosebleeds to $2,500 on the floor).
"I grew up on Motown and this isn't cutting it," said fan Vito Maur of New York. "It's like a variety show."
Fans even resorted to booing at times, and chanted for the Gloved One to take the stage.
Finally, he did. And what seemed like impending disaster for the disorganized affair soon turned into HIStory, as the King of Pop reclaimed his title as one of the greatest entertainers in the music biz.
With an introduction by Dame Taylor, Jackson popped onstage looking more like MTV's Moon Man than a pop star--wearing a matching white suit and biker helmet and standing motionless amidst the roar of the crowd. He was immediately joined on stage by his brothers for what would be the Jackson 5's highly anticipated reunion, their first since 1984's Victory Tour.
The Motown legends, featuring brothers Jermaine, Tito, Marlon, Randy, Jackie and Michael, got the crowd moving to a medley of classics, including "ABC," "I"ll Be There" and "I Want You Back." And, linking both old and new, 'N Sync came out and joined the group to get down to "Dance Machine."
"I love you...I love you," Jackson shouted twice to the audience, as his brothers left the stage after their 20-minute performance.
Jackson went on to team with Britney Spears for a sexy rendition of "The Way You Make Me Feel." And he was joined onstage by Slash playing guitar for "Black and White" and a scorching version of "Beat It," replete with ghetto dancers and choreography straight from the video.
At one point, Michael asked the pumped up crowd what it would like to hear, before being drowned out by the inaudible roar of requests. He then launched into his new single, "You Rock My World," off his new Invincible, due out at the end of October.
But perhaps Michael's finest moment came when he walked out on stage with only a small carrying case and pulled out his black sequined jacket, hat and white glove for an almost exact recreation of his Motown anniversary performance of "Billy Jean," moonwalk and all.
The tribute stretched well past midnight and closed with the legendary Quincy Jones, Michael's producer on the Thriller and Bad albums, leading an all-star cast singing "We Are the World."
"I want to thank everyone who came tonight," Jackson told the crowd. "It was an incredible experience. I love you all. Thank you so much."
For Jackson, the night was just beginning. Following the performance, the pop legend took over New York's Tavern on the Green for a Wizard of Oz-themed post-party, featuring stilt walkers and a cast of Munchkins.