Reclusive pop superstar Michael Jackson made a musical comeback of sorts on Wednesday, singing the chorus line of his charity single “We Are The World” before the sound cut out as he struggled for the high notes.
The 48-year-old, performing live for the first time since he was acquitted of child molestation charges in June, 2005, had been expected to sing his seminal hit “Thriller”.
But to the huge disappointment of screaming fans, that was performed instead by young U.S. star Chris Brown.
Jackson looked uncomfortable at times as he was surrounded by excited young members of a gospel chorus on stage with him.
That did not stop supporters desperate to see their idol cheer his every move, especially when threw his black sequin jacket into the crowd.
The failure by the deposed King of Pop to demonstrate his voice and confidence were back to anywhere near their best was likely to raise further doubts about his ability to resurrect a career that has been on hold for years.
“There have been so many people who have loved me and stood by me. I love all the fans from the bottom of my heart,” Jackson said before flinging his jacket and exiting the stage.
Earlier, Jackson’s appearance outside the Earl’s Court Arena in west London inspired glee and bedlam among hundreds of fans, who scrambled for photos and reached out to touch his gloved hand.
Jackson, clad in black and wearing his trademark shades, also spoke briefly to journalists. But the roar of the crowd combined with the singer’s own low-decibel delivery ensured few could hear anything he said.
Asked where he has been living, Jackson replied: “All over the place.”
Earlier in the evening, Jackson was given the Diamond Award honouring artists who sell more than 100 million records.
Introducing Jackson, U.S. singer Beyonce said: “Tonight we are celebrating 25 years of ’Thriller’,” referring to his seminal album. “If it wasn’t for Michael Jackson I would never have ever performed. I love you, we all love you.”
Doubts aboundJackson, who has been a virtual recluse for the last 17 months, thanked fans and his family, singling out his three children who have been with him during his stopover in London.
“I am greatly humbled by this award,” said Jackson, who wore his jet black hair long and straight. “It was my dream that ’Thriller’ would be the biggest-selling album ever ... and God has answered my prayers,” he added.
Jackson’s lifetime record sales tally is believed to be around 750 million, making him the most successful entertainer of all time.
It was an unhappy return to the London stage for Jackson, who has not performed in Britain for around a decade. In 1996, Pulp lead singer Jarvis Cocker stormed the stage and mocked Jackson during his rendition of “Earth Song”.
Jackson has said he plans to move to Europe in a bid to resurrect his musical career and has indicated he will release a new album in 2007.
Whether Wednesday’s performance helps him on the road to professional recovery remains to be seen.
“I would say there’s very little chance of him coming back from where he is,” said Gareth Grundy, deputy editor of the Q music magazine, speaking before the show.
“I think people will always be fascinated by the freak show, and that’s what’s going on,” he said. “I would categorise him as a celebrity as opposed to an artist.”
Celebrities Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan were also at the Earls Court venue, where they were joined by hundreds of reporters eager to catch Jackson in action.
Winners on the night included Madonna (world’s best pop artist), Canada’s Nelly Furtado (best pop/rock) and Nickelback (best rock group), Beyonce (best R&B), Kanye West (best rap/hip-hop) and Britain’s James Blunt (best new artist).
The World Music Awards reflect artists’ global sales rather than a public vote or panel decision.