He hasn’t spoken to a TV interviewer in nearly a decade. She’s probably running out of people to talk to. So it’s appropriate that after a self- imposed silence, the self-described King of Pop, Michael Jackson, has decided to sit down for a live 90-minute interview with TV’s Confession Queen, Oprah Winfrey. This Feb. 10 summit meeting between two of America’s most recognizable celebs will be one of the biggest showdowns of the sweeps months — a shoot-out at the I’m Okay, You’re Okay Corral.
The genesis of the special, which will be broadcast from Jackson’s rarely seen Santa Ynez, Calif., ranch, goes back to last fall, when Winfrey’s camp approached him about appearing on one of her prime-time shows. A big factor in her favor: Oprah is buddies with Quincy Jones, who produced Jackson’s Thriller album. After two months of deliberation, ”Michael finally settled on Oprah because he would be most comfortable with her,” says Debra DiMaio, senior vice president of production for Winfrey’s daily talk show.
Breaking his media silence with Winfrey is part of Jackson’s recent glasnost campaign. In the past two weeks he has appeared at the inauguration, the NAACP Image Awards, and the American Music Awards, and he is scheduled to perform live at the Super Bowl. Why is the singer coming out now? ”There’s been a lot of concern, even criticism, about his not being visible,” says his spokesman, Darryl Clark. ”He’s never been that accessible. But how long can you be quiet and have people say what they want about you?”
Probably until your album sales start slipping, which is what has been happening to Jackson. Maybe that’s why he’s not only showing up with Oprah but also — according to both sides — not demanding any ground rules. Nose job? Family feuds? Rumors about his sexuality? ”We really expect him to talk about everything,” DiMaio says. And unlike the MTV Awards, ”we’re not contractually bound to call him the King of Pop,” says DiMaio, ”although we hear he likes to be called that.”
Winfrey and Jackson got along well during a photo shoot at his home last month, and she can supposedly ask any question, but that doesn’t mean he really has to say anything. So if he clams up or goes monosyllabic, Winfrey’s plan is to have plenty of tapes on hand to drop in, including exclusive footage from his personal archives.
Worst scenario: What if Michael decides at the last minute not to go on? Just in case, quips Ted Harbert, president of ABC Entertainment, ”(brother) Tito has made himself available.”