Sunday, June 15, 2008

Michael Jackson: The Next Elvis?

Ethan Smith at the Wall Street Journal has just broken a big story on Michael Jackson.

Someday, I hope to see the headline: Axl Rose: The Next Michael Jackson?

A short excerpt follows.

A private-equity group is hoping to do for Michael Jackson something a long parade of music-industry veterans, lawyers and billionaire friends have failed to accomplish: Revive the pop star's dormant career after a 2005 child-molestation trial and a financial meltdown.

Colony Capital, which owns the Las Vegas Hilton and is a major shareholder in closely held Station Casinos, is in discussions with Mr. Jackson to get him back onstage and in the spotlight via a long-term stand in Las Vegas. It also wants the singer to sell his Neverland Ranch, the home of his private amusement park and menagerie and site of his controversial sleepovers with young children.

Now Colony is urging the singer to emerge from the rural Nevada compound where he has recently been holed up with his family, to stage a residency performance -- either at one of its gambling and entertainment properties or elsewhere in Sin City.

Since Mr. Jackson's 2005 acquittal on child-molestation charges, various entertainment-industry executives have pursued some kind of splashy comeback for him. For the most part, the singer hasn't played along. In February he backed out of a planned performance during the Grammy Awards telecast. Around the same time, he also declined a proposal to perform for 10 nights at a London arena. People who have spoken to Mr. Jackson say he has simply not felt up to the rigors of performing after his lengthy legal ordeal.

Recently the singer has been living in Pahrump, Nev., an unincorporated town 60 miles west of Las Vegas, where he has been writing new songs in a home studio and having his three children (ages 11, 10 and 6) home-schooled.

The most likely option would be to create something like "Love," the Cirque du Soleil show built around Beatles tunes. Mr. Jackson wouldn't be a regular part of the performance but would appear for 20 to 30 performances a year, possibly with his brothers.

Any of these scenarios would be paired with a plan to restore his image.

The first step in that plan is to distance the singer from Neverland, which, as a focal point for the trial, is indelibly linked with those charges in the eyes of the public. Mr. Jackson has vowed never to live at the ranch again, given its associations. But he nonetheless has entertained visions of turning it into a family-oriented theme park, with rides for children. Colony executives consider the residence completely toxic to Mr. Jackson's image, and are urging him to restore the property's original name, Sycamore Canyon Ranch, and to sell it as quickly as possible.

Colony is also urging him to make a public statement further distancing himself from the controversy, in a venue like Oprah Winfrey's talk show. A person familiar with the discussions says the general idea of such remarks would be for Mr. Jackson, who moved temporarily to Dubai following his acquittal, to say that the American legal system exonerated him, and that he now hopes to move on.

The final step would be for him to stage some kind of televised performance -- ideally in the context of a high-profile charity concert -- to prove to the world that he can still sing and dance.

If all goes according to plan -- a long shot, to be sure -- in three to five years, Colony would like to develop a Thriller Casino with Mr. Jackson. That is something Mr. Jackson has kicked around for more than 10 years.

You can read the entire article on the Wall Street Jornal's Website.

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