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Jackson tribute in Vienna: A thriller gone bad?

Jermaine Jackson promised some of the planet's biggest stars would take the stage in front of a 17th century palace in Vienna for what's been billed as the major global tribute to Michael Jackson. So far, though, he hasn't delivered.
/ Source: The Associated Press

It was supposed to be a thriller. Now it just looks bad.

Jermaine Jackson promised some of the planet's biggest stars would take the stage in front of a 17th century palace in Vienna for what's been billed as the major global tribute to Michael Jackson.

So far, though, he hasn't delivered top acts like Madonna for the Sept. 26 outdoor concert. And two of the supposedly confirmed headliners announced this week — Mary J. Blige and Chris Brown — apparently are out.

Blige's publicist says she has another commitment, a person close to the situation told The Associated Press in Los Angeles that Brown won't perform either and a spokeswoman for Natalie Cole suggested she, too, is iffy.

That leaves a smattering of B-list artists such as Sister Sledge, Akon and German boy band US5 — and unhappy fans who paid up to $745 for VIP seats have a stern message for organizers still scrambling for talent: Don't stop 'til you get enough.

"The lineup announced so far really disappoints me," said Dieter Kircher, 36, of Vienna, who shelled out $91 on a standing-room ticket to the event outside Vienna's former imperial Schoenbrunn Palace. "I can only hope some real stars will come."

Austrian media ran withering headlines Thursday about the much-hyped tribute to the King of Pop, who died June 25 in Los Angeles, denouncing it as a flop.

"Chaos and cancellations," the daily Heute said. Public broadcaster ORF called the lineup a "farce" and a "debacle."

"Right now, the list of 'stars' probably wouldn't even fill the Vienna Stadthalle," an arena in the Austrian capital that draws top acts, ORF said.

Jermaine Jackson told reporters in Berlin on Thursday that he spoke with Blige and Brown, and that Blige said she wanted to take part but was committed to a Gucci fashion show engagement in Milan. Michael "meant so much to her," he said.

He said Stevie Wonder was trying to work out a way to perform despite a full schedule.

Brown, who is serving five years' probation for beating his former girlfriend, Rihanna, would need a judge's permission for any international travel, a Los Angeles court spokeswoman said Wednesday. No motion to do so has been filed, and the person with knowledge of the singer's situation said none would be filed.

On Wednesday, in London, Jermaine Jackson also said he hoped R. Kelly would sign on. Tribute promoter Georg Kindel would neither confirm nor deny a possible Kelly appearance.

Jackson and Kindel plan to hold a news conference in Vienna sometime next week to announce further details about the lineup.

Kindel said earlier this week that up to two dozen artists were expected to perform some of Michael Jackson's greatest hits — including "Thriller," "Billie Jean," "Black or White" and "Bad" — on a large stage with a crown on its roof to be erected on the palace grounds. He said 65,000 fans were expected.

Over the course of the evening, Jermaine will sing a virtual duet with his late brother, probably with video of Michael to be projected onto nearby walls, organizers said. In that respect, Kindel said Thursday, "the star of the event is Michael Jackson."

But the hype that has surrounded the event since it was unveiled led many fans to believe that superstars of Madonna's or U2's caliber would appear. When tickets went on sale online last month, the Web sites offering them went down for hours because of a crush of interest.

Kindel defended the lineup so far. "If someone wins nine Grammy Awards, is that a top star?" he asked. "Who is A-list? Who is B-list? Who is a star? Everyone has his own musical tastes."

Jermaine Jackson has said he's negotiating with broadcasters for licensing rights to a global tribute telecast that would air the concert live to 1 billion fans worldwide, but he hasn't said whether an agreement has been reached.

Members of the late pop star's family and his children are expected to attend. Organizers sought to refute published reports suggesting Jackson relatives are unhappy about the Vienna tribute and don't plan to come — they screened a video Thursday in Berlin in which Jackson's mother, Katherine, said she fully supports the event.

"I'm sure the show is going to be fantastic and I'm looking forward to seeing you there," she said.

Jermaine Jackson has said that Vienna — a surprise venue — was chosen because his brother "loved castles," and because Jermaine was impressed with how a smaller tribute held in July outside a mothballed nuclear power plant was organized.

The city of Vienna, which considers the tribute a potentially huge tourism boost, has pledged up to $870,000 to help underwrite the cost of diverting traffic, providing security and producing a promotional video.

Deputy mayor Renate Brauner told the Austria Press Agency on Thursday that it's not too late to put the brakes on that spending. But Brauner said she hopes the tribute preparations regain momentum.

"As a fan of Michael Jackson, it would make me happy if some big names came," she said.