Plenty of expectations were placed on Michael Jackson’s public memorial at the Staples Center on July 7: There would be drama (leading up to the event and possibly during), there would be celebrities, there would be songs that remind us of what made Jackson famous.
What no one expected was that, for about 90 minutes, the Jackson family would invite a stadium full of strangers into their lives.
It all began with a subtle family message: At the memorial the remaining Jackson brothers wore yellow ties, and family friend Lionel Ritchie wore a yellow flower on his lapel.
The color coordination wasn’t planned, said a person who helped the Jackson family with the wardrobe for the memorial. “The color has family significance,” he said. “It was fine for the world to notice, and they’ll explain it when they’re ready. But they wanted to put the message out there.”
Then there was the deeply religious overtones of some of the songs — “Jesus is Love,” performed by Ritchie, was just one of them. Although the Jacksons are religious — they were Jehovah’s Witnesses — the idea that Michael’s memorial would have so many non-secular songs surprised many.
During the memorial I reached, via text, a close friend of the “King of Pop” who said that those who really knew Michael weren’t surprised by the spiritual element of the memorial.
“He was DEEPLY spiritual,” read the first text. He added, “And he expressed it often and at length to those close to him. Especially during the creation of his (London) show. (Jackson’s spiritualism) would have been very evident when people saw it.”
Those subtle nods to the real Jackson and his family were amplified by the sentiments of his friends. Magic Johnson, who spoke of sharing fried chicken with Jackson; Brooke Shields, who with Jackson snuck in to see Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding dress, and finally, there was Jackson’s young daughter Paris, who bravely took to the microphone to express what a wonderful father she had.
Al Sharpton went to great lengths to say Jackson wasn’t strange, but was in a strange situation. The truth might lie somewhere in between, but Tuesday, that was all forgotten. The Jackson family and their friends shared something deeply personal, raw and human. And they didn’t just share it with the Staples Center — they shared it with the world.
Many of the day’s memorable sentiments might have come from the A-list, but the message was one that real people could understand. Jackson might have been a celebrity’s celebrity but inside the Staples Center on Tuesday, we got to know the world’s greatest performer in a way we might get to know a friend. Yet another first for Jackson, not to be repeated, perhaps ever.
Courtney Hazlett delivers the Scoop Monday through Friday on msnbc.com. Follow Scoop on Twitter: @courtneyatmsnbc.