Michael Jackson is no longer hiding out in Bahrain.
Though he fled the United States after his acquittal on child molestation charges last year, apparently happy to live in seclusion in the Middle East, Jackson has started inching his way back into the spotlight.
Earlier this year, he went to Tokyo to accept MTV Japan's "Legend Award." This month, he allowed the syndicated TV show "Access Hollywood" to film him in the studio, working on music with superhot producer will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas.
And on Wednesday, in a rare public performance, he is set to sing the classic charity song he co-wrote, "We Are The World," at the World Music Awards in London, where he will get another special award.
Move over Justin. Jackson, still one of the best-selling artists of all time, is looking to reclaim his title as the King of Pop.
But does the public care?
"Michael needs to come back strong and come back of today, not of yesterday," said Elroy R.C. Smith, a program director at the Chicago-based radio station WGCI 107.5, which plays R&B, hip-hop and old-school music. "He could get back in the studio, but if he is out of touch with what's going on musically, he'll be considered, 'Well, he's finished.'
"Would the world love to see this guy come back musically? Absolutely. Because he's still one of the greatest performers of all time."
From entertainer to freak show
But Jackson the entertainer has long taken a back seat to Jackson the one-man freak show. His acquittal on allegations of molesting a young boy was just the latest, and most dramatic disaster for a man who has admitted to sharing a bed (chastely) with kids, dangled his baby from a balcony and shocked people with his cosmetically enhanced visage. And that's just THIS century — don't get us started on blunders of the '90s or the late '80s.
Jackson's last album, 2001's "Invincible," went double-platinum but didn't register any megahits. Not-so-awesome news for the guy who made the world's best-selling album in "Thriller" and once released multiplatinum albums with ease.
"I'm not going to play Michael Jackson because it's Michael Jackson," Smith said. "But if it has an urban flair to it, if it has potential, oh yeah, we will truly give it a shot."
"Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush recently interviewed Jackson at his Ireland-based studio. Bush is also spending time with Jackson this week in London.
"He wants to show that he's moving forward and getting back to doing what he does," Bush told The Associated Press. "The theory (for his new album) is he's gonna build it in Europe and Asia and mount it that way, and eventually, I think the endgame would be the United States."
And he's still got plenty of fans. Bush was stunned earlier this week while watching Jackson generate a frenzy when he stepped out of a car in London.
"It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen," he said. "I mean I've seen a lot of celebrities get out of their car and get screams of adoration and adulation and all that, but nothing as emotional and vociferous as this."
Celeb style tips for Michael
Music makers are clamoring to work with him. R&B hitmaker Akon, who has a smash hit with Eminem and is collaborating on Gwen Stefani's new album, is one of them — he plans to do a song for Jackson's album next year. His advice to Jackson? Go with his gut instincts, "just do music that feels good, that feels right, that's fun."
"Once he understands that, he'll be able to go in a studio and make an album within 30 days, because he just put his feeling into it," Akon told the AP. "Not only to think strategically... throw all that out the window. Do what you love to do and put it out and I promise you it will be successful."
That may be true. But in addition to hearing Jackson, fans also have to look at him — and from the Pluto T-shirt and big-hair look he showed off this week, Jackson likely needs some fashion superstars to help him in that department.
Celebrity stylist Nicole Chavez, whose clients include "OC" actress Rachel Bilson, said Jackson should "tone down" his look — style, hair and make-up — to appeal to a broader audience.
"I think if you get the right people involved, everybody could create a look that would work for Michael and would work for the public," she told the AP.
Americans, Smith said, are "forgiving." They love to see down-and-out stars bounce back (see: Britney and Whitney). A radio-friendly, slickly produced album from Jackson might be something worth rooting for — or not.
"I don't think he can do it like he did it the first time in the '80s ... Album sales just don't work like that anymore," Bush said.
"But I think he can capture the fascination. Good music is good music. And he's already proven that in that mind — from that mind — comes great, great music. So there's no question he can do it again. It's ‘will he?' and `will people accept it'?"