“What was that?!” Bashir asked me once everyone left.
That was the right course of action to be taken. When Milan asked Shayla about her ring, the entire energy in the room shifted. As for me, I am happy for Shayla. I’m so glad she found her new happily ever after. And I’m proud that she found someone who will love our children as if they are his own. But for Bashir, the minute Shayla talked about her ring, a “controversial segment” was brought about for him to talk about, which is why I took Shayla off to the side to congratulate her. I didn’t want Bashir to ask Shayla questions about her engagement with Drew. Not for my own self-gain, but because I know how private she and Drew are about their relationship. I didn’t want their relationship to be exploited. Especially not in my documentary. It’s not right. But I guess even my diversion didn’t keep Bashir from asking the questions he so desperately wanted to be answered. He waited well until Shayla, and I came back out to ask any question that came to mind in front of my children.
“Michael, did you take offense to my question?”
“It was an inappropriate question to ask. Not only in front of my children, but in general, Martin. Who Shayla decides to date is none of my concern.”
“Your ex-wife is marrying someone who you’ve admired in the past. You don’t find that suspicious? You don’t think that she had been having an affair with him all this time?”
“…Shayla would have never disrespected me like that. We’ve addressed this in private. It doesn’t need to become public. I just want to finish with the rest of the interview. Can we do that? Guys, you can press record. I’m ready to finish this segment.” I sat down in a white chair. I just want to move on now. Drew’s right. I should make sure I view this before it airs.
Bashir sighed as he sat down and pulled out his notepad. I know he probably feels slighted by Drew, but at the end of the day, Drew’s right. That was inappropriate to ask. And now, it’s shifted the entire aura of the interview.
“We were talking about your father and growing up in Las Vegas. Tell me about that,” Bashir began.
“Oh yeah… I had to share bedrooms with one of my brothers on the tours. And, uh, there was some action going on in my room every night. I could hear it,” I chuckled nervously to myself. “And I used to- My job was to play sleep. And… And I was told by one of my brothers, ‘no matter what, don’t get up. Don’t open your eyes.’ I’d go, ‘I won’t. I promise I won’t.’ And so, I would hear these girls come in. I would hear them say, ‘is that little Michael?’ My brothers would say, ‘yeah.’ And they’d go, ‘oh, he’s so cute!’ Like that and I- I heard everything. And then I would hear a loud-”
“What did you hear?” Bashir asked.
“With the girls?”
“You heard them having sex?”
I nodded, “yeah.”
“In the same bedroom as you?”
“Uh…” I smiled nervously. Those memories give me uneasy feelings. One, my brothers should have never ever done that. Ever. But they were young and dumb. I’m sure now they’d advise against stuff like that. Although, over the years, we have joked about those incidents. Moreso, them joking about it more than me. “Let me see. Um…” I thought about my answer. “Sometime. Sometime not. Yeah.”
“So, on some occasions, you’re lying down pretending to be asleep,” Bashir said as he collected his thoughts.
I nodded, “mmhm.”
“And your brothers were having sex with someone in the same room.” I continued to nod. Admitting to something like this is uneasy, but also, I hope when people hear this, they realize how abnormal my childhood really was. When I say I didn’t have a normal childhood, I’m not saying that for my health. I’m saying that because it’s a real thing. Normal children don’t share hotel rooms with their siblings, and those siblings aren't having sex with random chicks. Normal children don’t tour all over the country getting chased down by fans. This stuff is traumatizing. It was traumatizing, and I’m convinced that no amount of therapy can truly help heal that.
“Did you have many girlfriends through your adolescence?”
“Uh…” I looked off to the side. “Not a lot. I did- My first girlfriend, uh, who I really loved a lot was, uh, Tatum O’Neal.”
“And was it a typical romantic adolescent love affair?”
“Yeah, it was! But I don’t think I was ready for some of the things she was talking about.” I laughed. “I was pretty naive. I’m not jokin’. I hope she forgives me for telling this story. Okay, Tatum, please forgive me. Uh, I remember her telling me to come over to the house. To her house. Beverly Hills house too. And… What she’s gonna do to me when I come. You know, all the…”
“Well, what did she say?” Bashir pressed.
I winced, “all the sexual stuff. So, I’m scared to death.”
“So, she rings you and says, ‘Michael, come to my house. I’m going to make love to you.’”
“And you- You’re really scared?”
“I’m scared,” I shook my head. “Scared ‘cause I have never done anything like that. I came over there tryna be Mr. Bigshot and brave. I remember she cut out all the lights in her bedroom. Opened the curtains. You could see the whole skyline of the city over the cliff. It was beautiful. And she told me to go over and lie on the bed. And I did. I laid on the bed. And she slowly walked over. And… She… touched the button of my shirt to open it. And I did my hands like this,” I brought my hands up to cover my face. “And I wouldn’t let ‘em down. And she… Just walked away. She knew I was too shy for it. That’s what happened,” I shrugged. At the time, Tatum had been too much for me. But over time, I realized she just wasn’t the one I wanted to share that moment with.
“Did you not feel tempted at all?”
I shook my head no, “no.”
“You just felt frightened.”
“I was frightened. I was afraid. I don’t think I was ready for that.”
“Obviously, you got over that. You married and had two beautiful children, so you’re not a virgin, as Ms. Oprah Winfrey asked you many years ago. Was Shayla the one you lost your virginity to?”
I blushed as I shook my head no, “like I told Oprah all those years ago, I’m a gentleman. I’m allowed to keep things to myself, and this is one of them.” Shayla was not the first, and we had our own conversation about that many eons ago. Shoot, judging by our honeymoon, it was evident that the only person in that room that was a virgin was Shayla. The women I was with before Shayla is no one’s business but me and the women I was with. I loved Diana Ross dearly. She taught me things, but she also broke my heart. I never thought I would ever come back from that until I met Shayla. Thus, Shayla was supposed to be my last, but we see how that went.
“How many were there before Shayla?”
“Does it matter?”
“Were any of them famous?”
“None of them are your business.”
“But Michael!” Bashir laughed. “Don’t you think this would clear up any conspiracies about your sexual history?”
“I don’t care if it clears up anything! I was married for fourteen years and bore two children. If that doesn’t clear up what the world wants to know so badly, I don’t know what to tell you.”
“Okay… well, do you believe your experiences with your brothers shaped your ideas on sex?”
Now there’s a question that can help shape whatever the public thinks of me. “I believe many of my experiences in life shaped my ideas on sex. From my brothers to performing in strip clubs… It shaped a lot, but I’m glad I eventually got over that. And my hope for my own children is to teach them the right things about sex and not have them in the same predicaments that I ever was.”
“What are the ‘right’ things about sex?”
“Well, uh, to be careful. To not force or feel forced to have sex. If they have sex outside of the bounds of marriage, I just want them to be careful. That’s all. I want them to share that part of themselves with someone they truly love. That’s all.”
“Is that what you were taught about sex?”
“Eh…” I winced. “I mean, my mother told me to wait until I got married. My father told me to be careful. But other than that, my parents didn’t really talk about stuff like that. They’re very private in that way.”
“What did your parents tell you about personal stuff like that?”
“Not much… Just kept it at the basics.”
“How about when you were growing up? In terms of your appearance. Is it okay if we talk about your appearance? It’s evident you’ve changed.”
I swallowed and rolled up the sleeves on my shirt, “what’s changed?”
“Your skin. Your nose… How did that begin? Did your parents never tell you you were beautiful? Because had they, we probably wouldn’t be where we are today.”
“…you’re trying to hurt my feelings, aren’t you?”
“No! No! I’m just asking, Michael. I don’t mean to offend. You’re a handsome man. I just want to know how we went from a young black boy to a man who’s lightened his skin.”
“For starters, I never lightened my skin, but we’re gonna get to that. Growing up, I would never look at myself in the mirror. Ever. I would turn off all the lights, and- ‘cause I had pimples really badly and… It was just difficult to face the public. One time we were in an airport. I remember I think it was somewhere like, um, Virginia or somethin’. And uh, some lady recognized my brothers- all of us. And she goes, ‘oh, my god! It’s the Jackson Five! Where’s little Michael? Where’s little Michael?’ She’s looking around, looking down. ‘Where’s little Michael?’ And another person goes, ‘there he is.’ And she goes, ‘ugh! What happened?’ Just like that….” My heart fell just the same as it did when that woman made that comment that I’ll never ever forget. “And God… I just could have died right there. That’s exactly what that lady said to me.”
“Did your father and your brothers tease you about your appearance as an adolescent?”
“My father did, and some cousins did.”
“What did your father say?”
“Oh, God…” I looked down. “It was pretty embarrassing. He used to tease me real bad about it.”
“It’s cruel, isn’t it?” Bashir asked with a slight look of disgust on his face.
“Yeah. It used to hurt me. I don’t think he realized how much he was hurting me.”
“What sort of thing did he say?”
I winced, “he would tease me about how I looked, and he would say, ‘well, you didn’t get it from my side of the family. Must of been from Kate.’ You know, ‘Kate,’ he would always say. Meaning my mother. ‘You didn’t get that from me.’ I’d say- I’d feel like saying, ‘thanks for making me feel better.’ You know? ‘Cause I don’t think how bad he- It didn’t even last-” I paused as I gathered my thoughts together over my jumbled words. “People don’t stop to think what they’re saying sometime and the effect it can have on a person, you know? Then one cousin would always… You know…” I pushed my thumbs together to insinuate popping a pimple. “He’d do like this when he’d see me. You know, like he was going to pop one of my pimples. I would just go to the bedroom and cry.”
“Is it true that your father used to say you had a ‘fat nose?’”
“Yeah,” I said without hesitation.
“What did he say? What did he actually say?”
“‘God! Your nose is big! You didn’t get it from me,’” I looked into the distance as I recounted the moment he said that to me as a teen.
“What does that do to someone who’s going through adolescence?”
“You wanna die… You wanna die! And on top of it, you gotta go on stage in the spotlight in front of hundreds and thousands of people. God… It’s just hard. I would have been happier wearing a mask. That’s why I tell my children now that they’re so beautiful, and I’m going to continue telling them they’re beautiful until the day I die. There is nothing ugly about them. They have the most beautiful noses. Michael’s gonna have a nose just like mine. He’s growing into his features. Milan has the most beautiful eyes, and they each have the most beautiful full lips. I would never tell my children that they’re ugly. I would never tell them they didn’t get a feature from me and that they got another feature from their mom. Never. They’re perfect.”
“No one is perfect, Michael.”
“No one is ugly either.”
He sighed, “what do you say to people who say, ‘well when Michael Jackson was a boy, he was a black kid. And now, as an adult, he looks like a white man?’”
“Well,” I scratched my nose. “You gotta ask God that. That has nothing to do with me, okay? And that- that’s ignorant.”
“What do you mean ‘it’s got nothing to do with you?’”
“I don’t control, you know, puberty. I don’t control the fact that I have vitiligo. I don’t control, you know, uh… Well, how many white people when they’re little kids, they look white. Now they look very- And they sit out in the sun all day to look black. And the suntan lotion business is a multibillion-dollar business. Nobody says nothing about that. They do, you know? Tryna be other than what they are! But that’s okay, I guess, right?”
“You’re trying to be other than what you are?”
“No.” He’s missing the point.
“So, when they say things like, ‘you’ve had implants in your cheeks.’”
“Oh, God…” I winced.
“‘You’ve had a dimple made in your chin.’”
“‘You’ve had your lips enlarged.’”
“Oh, please! It’s stupid.”
“‘You’ve had your eyelids reconstructed.’”
“None of it’s true?”
“None of it’s true. None of it’s true! It’s BS. They made it up. They lie! They don’t wanna give me credit for anything. One person said, ‘each-’ ‘Cause I was growing a little beard. ‘He had each little hair transplanted into his face with a laser.’ Lasered in. How ignorant is that? I can’t even grow a beard now? Ignorant fool who wrote such a thing. So don’t believe that stupidity. Don’t waste your money on it! ‘Cause when you’re buying it, you’re not buying something based on what’s true. It’s not the truth. It’s garbage. My children have to grow up seeing stuff like that. They’re learning to read, and they might encounter stuff like that. It’s crazy. It’s stupid.”
“Speaking of your children and them seeing you deal with certain things. I have two questions. How do your children feel when they see photographs of you when you were younger? Do they ask you why you look different?”
I laughed at the memories of some of the questions I’ve gotten from the twins, “children are very innocent. Very, very innocent. And you know that’s where most of their questions come from. It doesn’t come from a state of maliciousness the way it does for adults. But yes, they have asked me why I was darker as a kid. Why my nose looks different. My hair… They’ve asked it all.”
“And what do you tell them?” He wondered.
“What is the truth?”
“That I have vitiligo, and I got it from Grandpa Joe’s side of the family. I’ve shown them the spots that I have. That, uh, I broke my nose on the set of The Wiz shortly before I met their mother. And I’ve told them of the Pepsi commercial accident. I told them the truth. I’d never lie to my children.”
“The Pepsi commercial incident changed your hair?”
I nodded, “it changed the way I go about my hair. That’s something I don’t wish to discuss with the public. But I don’t lie to my children. If anyone expected me to, they’re just as terrible as the lies they expected me to tell.”
He nodded, understanding that I was directing that indirect insult at him. “My second question… Do you try to give your children a normal upbringing?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“What about things like schooling and education? Do they got to school?”
“Yes. They’re enrolled in a private school for kindergarten. They’ve attended the best preschools. They really love to learn, and they enjoy being amongst other children.”
“Was that easy to enroll them in school?”
“No,” I smiled. “I didn’t want them to go to a normal school, but their mother insisted upon it. I didn’t want them to get chased by paparazzi or teased by other kids, their parents, or possibly by teachers. It took a lot of convincing to get me to agree to allow the twins to go to regular school. If I had it my way, they’d just have a private tutor like I did growing up. I turned out fine. I’m sure they would have too.”
“Do you worry about the effect of your life on them? The fact that you are the star that you are and therefore, they, by default, have to be part of that. They kind of don’t have a choice.”
“No. That’s the way it is. It’s worked successfully in the past many times. It’s all in how you shape, and sculpt, and mold their world. You know and, uh, many people have been successful at it. I think it’s easier with the mother that they have. It might be a little harder if it weren’t for Shayla. We both want them to have normal lives. We both don’t want them in the spotlight. They’ve only been seen publicly when they were infants and last year on the red carpet of my thirtieth-anniversary show. They won’t be seen again publicly until this airs. We keep them amongst family and out of the public eye. We’re doing a great job. They know what I do. They know who their mother is and who she’s marrying. As far as I’m concerned, we’re doing the absolute best. I don’t worry about anything. They’re loved and protected, and that’s all they’ll ever know.”