Michael Jackson's childhood neighbor says as a child, music icon's singing 'blew us all away'

PHOTO: Marlon, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Michael Jackson of the Jackson 5 pose for a portrait in Los Angeles, circa 1969.Lawrence Schiller/Polaris Communications/Getty Images
Marlon, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Michael Jackson of the Jackson 5 pose for a portrait in Los Angeles, circa 1969.

A childhood neighbor of pop icon Michael Jackson's gave ABC News a rare glimpse into what he was like as a singer on the brink of stardom, describing him as a "perfectionist at rehearsing" even in his youth.

"Michael was always, as you know, singing and rehearsing and dancing and wanting to get in with his brothers, you know, to prove to his dad that he was a showman, that he could be a showman, that he could perform," Kym Mazelle said.

Mazelle, a singer also known as the "first lady of house music," grew up just three blocks from the house in Gary, Indiana, where Jackson grew up with father Joe; mother Katherine; and siblings Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Brandon, Randy and Janet.

PHOTO: The Jackson 5 performing on their own TV special, Sept. 19, 1971. Bettmann Archive via Getty Images
The Jackson 5 performing on their own TV special, Sept. 19, 1971.

Jackson and his brothers -- Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon -- made up the famous Jackson 5 before Michael eventually embarked on a solo career. Mazelle said that back then in Gary, everyone in the neighborhood knew when the Jackson 5 was rehearsing.

"All the kids would hear the music. Everybody would come out in the street and just start dancing and singing," she said. "It was like almost an everyday thing, when you would hear that music strike up and you'd hear them begin to rehearse and get ready for their concerts or talent shows."

She said the group of brothers performed in talent shows and eventually moved to clubs in Gary and Chicago where they had to compete with older, professional bands for spots. Mazelle said the Jackson 5 watched performers like Jackie Wilson, Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin to hone their act.

"They [the Jackson 5] saw these polished acts. And, Michael would have learned because he was a kid and he picked up fast, he would have learned how to perform, how to be a showman, you know, what to do, what not to do, what good steps, how the audience reacted to, you know," she said.

Jackson, she said, particularly loved Wilson and James Brown and watched them closely.

PHOTO: The Jackson family lived in this home in Gary, Ind., pictured on June 25, 2014. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
The Jackson family lived in this home in Gary, Ind., pictured on June 25, 2014.

"He took it to the next level, you know, because he was studying James Brown. He watched how James Brown used dance and movement in his performances, in his revues. He watched how Jackie Wilson did all the dancing, you know," Mazelle said.

She said that not only was Jackson's tone incredible, but so was his approach to his lyrics.

"Even though he was so young, he knew how to interpret stories and how to bring them across. And I think part of that must have come from the early days when they were, like, in Gary, Chicago, working with those really, really professional acts," she said. "He could sing something like, 'Who's Loving You?' ... When he's saying, 'When I had you,' it's, like, who can sing like that? The way he would interpret a song and a love song or a moment. Oh my God, he just blew us all away."

And, she said, Jackson didn't just use voice to evoke emotion but also his body.

PHOTO: An early version of the Jackson 5 poses for a portrait with, clockwise from bottom left, Marlon Jackson, Tito Jackson, Jackie Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Michael Jackson, and Johnny Jackson, no relation, on drums. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
An early version of the Jackson 5 poses for a portrait with, clockwise from bottom left, Marlon Jackson, Tito Jackson, Jackie Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Michael Jackson, and Johnny Jackson, no relation, on drums.

"He was a dancer. He felt rhythm in the music," Mazelle said. "Even when he was writing it, he moved his body like a drummer or like a symphony or like a violin. He just had rhythm in his body."

She said that everyone had a crush on Jackson, even though he was young. For Mazelle, she said, Jackson and his family's success proved to her and others that they could be successful in whatever they chose to do in life.

"That boy, oh man, oh man. It's just incredible. It's just amazing. A gift from God, I just have to say, a gift from God, his vocal talent," she said. "He really, really inspired me. ... And, people just loved him. ... He crossed every barrier."