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Jackson faces uphill moonwalk for Vegas shows

Rumors persist that Michael Jackson is headed to Vegas for an extended concert run, but his negative publicity could hurt his chances for success — if he can even get a show.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

There is only one place on earth where the goblins from the “Thriller” video, the exotic animals from Neverland Ranch, the lawyers, the celebrity siblings, the media, the fans, the plastic surgeons and the white glove can come together in moonwalking bliss to celebrate Michael Jackson: Las Vegas.

Rumors persist that Jackson might not only crawl out of Incognito Land, but could hit The Strip with a splash. While there’s been no verification, the buzz has it that Jackson might agree to perform an extended engagement similar to those of Celine Dion, Elton John, Cher and Bette Midler.

Last year, the New York Daily News reported that Jackson was planning to erect a 50-foot robotic likeness of himself in full view of incoming planes to coincide with a lengthy series of concerts.

Imagine the stir. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop (“Jacko,” as he is affectionately known in British tabloids), who has been worshipped across the globe for his incomparable success as a recording artist and performer but has been hammered by critics for his alleged indiscretions with young boys, could join the ranks of Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group, Penn & Teller and other semi-permanent acts.

“I’ve heard the rumors for over a year and a half about it,” said Michael Isaac, who for the past eight years has run a business called preferredticket.com, which sells ducats to all Las Vegas attractions and shows.

Does he think it will happen?

“Probably not,” he said. “He’s a guy who has such a negative connotation with his name right now. There are a lot of anti-Michael Jackson people out there. There aren’t a lot of anti-Celine Dion or anti-Elton people.”

Possible venuesIf such a show does take place, it would likely be at Caesars Palace, if rumors are to be believed. The legendary casino built the 4,300-seat Colosseum — which opened in March 2003 — specifically to house Dion’s shows. It is the largest such room with regular headliners in town, perfect for a big act. By comparison, the Las Vegas Hilton’s Hilton Theater, which is playing host to an extended Barry Manilow run, seats 1,700.

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But don’t count out the smaller theater. A star of Jackson’s caliber may prefer a larger stage, but investment company Colony Capital, which owns the Las Vegas Hilton, bought out the star’s loan on his Neverland Ranch when it nearly went into foreclosure in May. And that could mean Colony’s owed a lengthy favor in the form of a show.

Many entertainers — from Elvis to Sinatra and others — have played extended runs over the years. But those engagements usually lasted about two weeks or so. (Dion did 717 shows over five years, with tickets going from $100 to $250 a pop.)

“Of course, we try to find artists who have sold many, many records and who have millions of fans who are capable of traveling to Las Vegas and filling a showroom of this size,” explained Gary Selesner, president of Caesars Palace. “We’re also very careful to work with people who are great partners and who understand that the task of filling a room night after night requires a lot of effort and dedication to the market.”

While Selesner would not comment specifically on the Jackson rumors — “You see them from time to time in the gossip columns in Las Vegas,” he said — the choice of an act for such a lengthy stay at the casino would come about only after a great deal of discussion and consideration.

Such an artist, he said, must have “wide-ranging appeal. If not, it’s doomed to failure.”

Daunting obstaclesThough Jackson has certainly been successful in the past (he fronted the Jackson Five and sold more than 750 million records worldwide) and has a large catalog of hits to draw from for a show, his more recent troubles could hurt the chances of a successful engagement.

Take into consideration two highly charged and publicized sexual molestation cases involving young boys in 1993 and 2005 (he settled out of court for the former and was acquitted in the latter). On top of that, he’s been subject to negative publicity ranging from broken marriages to plastic surgery mishaps to dangling his baby from a balcony.

Also to consider is that with existing acts such as Elton John, Cher and Bette Midler, audiences tend to skew older and are comprised generally of people with the disposable income to spend at the gambling tables and the restaurants and bars inside the casinos. In Jackson’s case, judging by the hordes outside his 2005 trial, he draws a younger crowd that might not be inclined to shell out for the extras.

His Q rating (a method used to measure an individual’s public appeal) has taken a fall in recent years, too. Henry Schafer, vice president of New York-based The Q Scores Co., reports that in 2006 (the last period of measurement for Jackson), the performer’s Positive Q score among adults declined by 50 percent to a 7 over the 20-year period prior to ’06. During that same time, his Negative Q score grew by 40 percent to a 69. (A good positive Q score is in the mid to high 20s, whereas a good Negative Q score is in the high teens.)

“For most personalities, there is a gradual movement up or down over time as their career evolves — unless there is a ‘traumatic’ professional or social occurrence in their lives that affects public opinion,” said Schafer. “In these instances, particularly the bad ones, public reaction is heavily influenced by the way in which the celebrity handles the situation.”

And since Jackson has recognition across all age groups for his Q rating – positive and negative — it’s not clear that there’s any one age group that would support him or his possible show in Vegas.

With all this, it’s difficult to gauge the possibility of a fruitful extended run. Of course, in a variation of that old “Field of Dreams” line, if you book him, maybe they will come anyway.

“It’s a very positive thing for (the stars’) careers,” said preferredticket.com’s Isaac. “I think Celine’s shows here enhanced her popularity even more.”

He also added that he has heard rumors about acts such as Britney Spears, Madonna and U2 doing extended engagements. “Vegas is unlike any other city. People come to Vegas for entertainment.”