September 10, 2001 -- (ABCNEWS.com) — Fans — some waving signs and banners, some dressed in full Michael Jackson regalia — came from every corner of the globe to pack New York's Madison Square Garden.
Just the sight of a Michael "decoy" walking around in the audience — a look-alike who was sent out to distract the crowd from the show's late start — was enough to prompt pandemonium, sobbing, and screaming.
Here are three things you should know about Michael Jackson fans: 1) They don't like it when other stars perform Michael's songs 2) They tolerate it when Michael performs with others 3) They go berserk when he performs alone.
All of those scenarios took place Friday night, at the much-hyped first of the two Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary Tribute shows.
When the real Michael appeared, with Elizabeth Taylor on his arm, the crowd went berserk. But as he took his seat in a side box, surrounded by his parents and Macaulay Culkin, the cheering fans didn't realize that what they were actually in for was two hours of musical performances, pretentious video montages, and lengthy downtime — and no Michael until much later. Brando: 'It Could Be You' The show, delayed by almost an hour, got off to a lively start with Usher, Mya, and a scarily skinny Whitney Houston performing "Wanna Be Startin' Something." Then, things got weird.
Marlon Brando took the stage and rambled on for a good 10 minutes about children dying around the world in various horrible ways. The audience, clearly not in the mood for Brando's doom-and-gloom, booed loudly, while he admonished them, "It could be you!" It wasn't until Brando invoked Michael's name and said that the star was giving money to build a hospital in Florida to help sick children, that they stopped booing. They were relieved when Brando left the stage.
As the show continued with a steady parade of stars singing Michael's songs, some fans started grumbling that Michael himself hadn't performed. True, some of the versions were inspired, including Marc Anthony's fabulous take on "She's Out of My Life," but some were downright bizarre.
Liza Minnelli, sporting a fright-wig hairstyle, hundreds of pounds of makeup, and lots of extra weight, resembled nothing more than a bad drag queen impersonation of herself. She sang "You Are Not Alone" and another number as bored audience ran for the beer counter and the bathroom.
Finally, two hours into the show, Elizabeth Taylor introduced Michael and his brothers, who took the stage for the first time in 20 years amid bursts of fireworks and a flashing video message that said, "Brace Yourselves."
The audience leaped out of their seats and went wild. The brothers performed abbreviated versions of their greatest hits, including "ABC," "The Love You Save," "Can You Feel It," "I'll Be There," and "I Want You Back," with classic Jackson 5 dance moves. The muddy sound mix made it hard to hear, but the crowd was mollified by Michael's constant yells of "I Love You!" Britney Cuts Deal to Perform'N Sync made a very brief appearance with the Jacksons on "Dancin' Machine." After another lengthy break, Michael reappeared to sing "The Way Your Make Me Feel," and — surprise — Britney Spears appeared onstage to sing it with him.
Though Britney had reportedly pulled out of the show due to a contract dispute, she cut a deal that allowed her to perform after all. Her appearance will be cut out of the upcoming CBS-TV special, though. It was hard to hear her, but the audience loved it — and it was worth it just to see her slink around the stage in a tight green dress with Michael pretending to stalk her like a dog in heat.
After another lengthy break, Chris Tucker appeared to introduce Michael's solo set. Michael walked on stage with a box and removed his black sequined jacket, fedora, and, finally, a white sequined glove. Much to the crowd's approval, he ripped into "Billie Jean." He sounded great and busted out all the classic Michael moves, including plenty of moonwalking.
Then, he brought out former Guns 'N Roses guitarist Slash to perform "Black or White" and "Beat It." During "Beat It," Michael and a dance troupe acted out the choreography from the video, and the crowd couldn't get enough. He ended that set with his new single "You Rock My World," and left the stage in a haze of fireworks and explosions.
At this point, it was midnight, but the producers asked the audience to stay for one more number. After another interminable wait, the entire lineup appeared onstage for an all-star version of "We Are The World," conducted by Quincy Jones. Even Kenny Rogers showed up to sing his original part, and Dionne Warwick and Yoko Ono were there, too. Finally, Michael thanked everyone for coming, and said his final "I love you!" of the night, and then it was over — four hours after it had begun.
So, was the show a pretentious, over-hyped, and overblown salute to one man's ego? Sure, it was. Did the audience care? Not as long as their hero was moonwalking, singing, and shouting "I Love You!" The crowd's unbridled outpouring of emotion for the man long derided as a tabloid freak proved that "The Gloved One" might not be an accurate nickname. Perhaps "The Loved One" would be more appropriate.