Friday, February 10, 2017

GIVEAWAY!!! & How To See 5 Michael Jackson related places in just a few hours! - Los Angeles Edition

When I wrote one of my last articles of 2016, I shared that I was looking forward to visiting Los Angeles for the first time.

I have to admit… I've always wanted to visit California but, the idea of making the trip has always been intimidating for me. I first joined the Michael Jackson online fan community as a junior in high school. It seemed like everyone but me (even way back then!) had already been to LA. In those days it felt like, if you were old enough to ride a plane solo, it was expected that you had been to California at least once.

I never made it there while Michael was alive.

But, the dream of visiting places that played a big part in Michael Jackson’s history was always in my heart. When one of my closest friends suggested doing a tour of the sights, I was totally down for it. It had been a busy and mentally taxing few months and spending time with my #mjfam for a weekend of learning and exploring all things Michael sounded perfect.

But let's be real.

When you've got work and other responsibilities, sometimes you've only got a day to spare. In our case, we only had a FEW HOURS! With proper planning, an awesome playlist, and lots of help from the research we had done, I was able to make it around to SEVERAL Michael Jackson related places.

Today I’ll give you a look at where I went and how you can also visit 5 Michael Jackson related places in LA (in just a few hours!).

These are the places I visited (and in the order listed below):

  1. The Thriller house
  2. Hayvenhurst, The Jackson family home 
  3. Gardener Street Elementary School
  4. Michael Jackson’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  5. The Jacksons Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Here are MY tips and tricks to get this done!

1. Make a list before you go! 

 Michael Jackson called the state of California home for a large portion of his life. So many monumental moments in his career happened in or just outside of the Los Angeles metro area. It's almost impossible to see EVERYTHING unless you are intentional about it and make a list. If you are limited on time, this is especially important.

Think about your favorite era, favorite moments in Michael Jackson history, and think of places you've always seen on television or on the internet. When generating my list, I placed a lot of importance on places that I'd seen as a child. As a kid, I loved watching Michael but, I especially loved watching the Legend Continues and his history with the Jackson 5 and later the Jacksons. The Jacksons American Dream was also on heavy, heavy rotation... so you can guess that Hayvenhurst was FIRST on my list.

When the Jacksons first moved to California to Indiana, they actually lived at a house off of Queens Road and Hollywood Boulevard.

But most fans, including myself, associate the Hayvenhurst complex as the Jacksons home. 

Michael Jackson, Jackie Jackson, Bubbles, and family at Hayvenhurst

Janet Jackson Latoya Jackson at Hayvenhurst

Driving to the Jacksons complex, it felt like I was on a natural high.

I was happy, nervous, and excited. Even though I knew the chances of us seeing a Jackson family member were slim to none and the chances we would get to even get to see the house clearly were even slimmer, I was still looking forward to it. My hands were sweaty and my heart was racing. It was a moment I had waited for my entire life.

Some of the fondest memories of my fandom were late nights with my discman, listening to the Jacksons music. I spent so many hours in the dark listening to the Jackson 5 Anthology. When I was a kid, I felt like they were singing to me. Especially songs like “All I Do Is Think of You,” “Maybe Tomorrow,” and my favorite Jacksons song “Destiny”. When all of my peers were listening to the current artists of the late 90s and early 2000’s, I was identifying with the Jacksons music; with Michael’s music. So visiting Hayvenhurst was a true full circle moment for me.

This is a photo of me in front of the mailbox.
Apparently, security dogs come out if you linger too long…. But I’ll save the details of THAT story for another post. :-)

I hope to make it back there one day.

 2. Map it out! 

I'm from New York City where the majority of people don't have cars. Most of us take the subway everywhere. It sounds super simple but, if you have a number of places you want to visit and don't plan it out on the map, you may not be able to get everywhere.

I had no clue that even with a car, the same rules must be applied. If you don't plan your trip according to location, you will have a tough time visiting every place on your list.

Coming into California from another state, the closest and most convenient place to visit first was the Thriller House. You know… the home that Ola Ray runs into right after the famous dance scene?

And then Michael barges in and he's all like...

Here I am in front of the house.

thriller house

It looks a little different in the daylight, doesn't it?

I am not sure who lives here but, we made a brief stop just to take these photos. Really cool experience.

3. Do your research.

One of the things I've had to learn and come to terms with is, I'll probably never stop learning about Michael Jackson.

Within my immediate family and circle of non-Michael Jackson fan friends, I am the resident "king of pop encyclopedia". Anyone that wants to know or discuss anything about Michael, usually comes to me. I'm kind of expected to know it all. But there is so much to learn about him. It is really an awesome blessing to be able to rediscover the magic, the man, and the talent of Michael Jackson again and again.

Sure... it would've still been fun to visit all of these spots without concerning myself with Michael's history at each one. But, I made a conscious effort to do some research on each place before I got there.

One of those places was Michael Jackson's elementary school.

In 1969, after the Jacksons first moved to California, Michael was a student at Gardner Street Elementary. I know it's hard to believe but, there was a time when Michael Jackson was an ordinary public school student. Above, is a rare photograph of Michael Jackson in his sixth grade class picture...
Can you spot him? 

He would only attend school there for a few months before the Jackson 5 grew in popularity. After leaving Gardner, he had to begin schooling with private tutors instead. According to his sixth grade teacher, Laura Gerson (pictured above and below in '89), she didn't even know he was an entertainer at the time.

In 1989, Michael Jackson was invited back for an unveiling ceremony when the school auditorium was remodeled and named after him.

gardner street elementary michael jackson auditorium

One of the cutest things I came across was this video of the interaction between Michael and the student who was chosen to present Michael with a special key at the ceremony. "I must be the luckiest kid in the world," he exclaimed, as the audience clapped and cheered.

If you watch for a few minutes more, you will see Hakeem from The Boys backstage with him.

The Boys were a popular Motown group during the era of New Jack Swing. Best known for hit songs like "Dial My Heart" and "Lucky Charm," and of course, their signature backflips. The group performed at the auditorium naming ceremony, which is why they could be spotted backstage with him. Michael also thanked them during his speech after the unveiling of the name outside. As a sidenote, if you've seen Moonwalker, the members should look familiar. All of The Boys members were in the kid version of Bad, "Badder"!

I LOVED Badder growing up. The Boys joined Jermaine Jackson Jr. and Brandon Adams (who played Michael) in this fun, all-kid rendition of the music video. Khiry is the tall one that plays Wesley Snipes' role and Hakeem is the one that pops the bubblegum in the beginning. The other two members are also in the segment as dancers. If you haven't seen it, please click here- it's a MUST see!

Here I am standing outside of the gates of the Gardner Street Elementary Auditorium.

By this time, it was getting dark and there were only a few spots left to see on my list.
The next stop was to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Did you know that Michael Jackson was the first to ever be recognized with TWO stars in the same category? On November 20, 1984 he received his star for solo artistry. It's one of the most popular stars to visit, located right in front of the TCL Chinese theater at 6927 Hollywood Blvd .

Here are some photos from that day.

 And here I am, almost 32 years and a few weeks later.

On September 3, 1980 nearly 2000 admirers joined the Jacksons, their parents Joseph and Katherine Jackson, and other family members as they were honored with a star on 1500 N Vine Street.

This was my last stop.

If you visit Michael's star first, prepare to walk another 7-10 minutes to the Jacksons star. To be honest, I was extremely tired this evening. After touring Los Angeles all day, it was a few minutes longer than I wanted to walk but, so worth it. It's in a pretty inconspicuous place but, I hope my photo below helps you find it. Janet Jackson's star is also nearby.

Jacksons Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

jacksons star hollywood walk of fame

My last tip for any fan looking to do a Michael Jackson tour in California is to take a lot of photos! Capture all of those special moments. One of the most fun things about this trip was afterwards, looking back on all of the memories through photos.

I've written here about my first (and only) time seeing Michael Jackson live in concert. I was young and didn't have a camera phone. I also didn't have the forethought to bring in a disposable camera. I only wish that we had taken photos of that night.

If you only have a few hours to complete your tour, I can guarantee you will be caught up in the moment and super excited about seeing certain places for the first time. But during this trip, I made sure to take tons of photos (and print them for safekeeping). It had been a while since I printed photos but, I did after this trip and I look at the photo album all the time.

Some moments in time are ones you want to hold on to and keep forever. For me, this is one of them.

PS: If you've made it to this point, you'll see that I will be giving away two of my personal favorite items from my Michael Jackson collection right below this post. These items inspired me to find places that I wanted to go see that were a part of Michael's history! 
The winner of this contest will receive a VICTORY Tourbook, The All About Michael People Magazine, and a copy of VISION.

Until next time....

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

5 Things To Know About the Michael Jackson Suite at Walt Disney World

Michael Jackson visited the Disney parks often during his life, especially during the early 1980’s.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Disney and shared a little bit about my first time in Disneyland a couple weeks ago (here). Walt Disney World has been my “other home” since I was a child and still remains a place that I look forward to visiting as often as possible. To me, Walt Disney World totally embodies escapism.

That word should sound familiar because Michael used it a LOT. He too hoped to create that feeling for people, so it’s no surprise that Walt Disney has always been one of his inspirations.

Walt Disney borrowed money against his life insurance policy to finance the creation of the first park, Disneyland. It was a vision that he believed very much in. His dream was to create a destination that families could visit together and a place where characters and the magic of Disney animated films would come to life. Disney once said, "I don't want the public to see the world they live in while they're in the park (Disneyland). I want them to feel they're in another world." Although some argue, this was achieved with the creation of Disneyland, I think that Walt Disney World is really the true and immersive Disney Park experience.

Planning a trip to Disney can be tricky… especially if you’re like me, and are selective with hotel rooms and that sort of thing. I would argue that a hotel room can make or break your trip. On my trip a couple months ago, the accommodations were a dream. Nice comfy beds, great view, modern and clean décor, a gift shop to buy Minnie Mouse ears, Starbucks in the lobby... you know, pretty much everything a New York City girl could ask for.

I got to thinking… I wonder where Michael stayed when he came here? Michael Jackson had his own suite in Disney but, I didn’t know much about it until recently. If you’re a fan of the Disney Parks like me or are simply just curious about what the Michael Jackson Suite in Walt Disney World was like, continue reading below:

1. The Michael Jackson suite was at Walt Disney World in Florida (not Disneyland in California). 

Michael Jackson had his own signature suite at Walt Disney World, which was completed and officially revealed in December of 1983 at the Hotel Royal Plaza (Grant, Michael Jackson, The Visual Documentary).

Michael once wanted to stay at the Contemporary resort in the late 70s. The Contemporary was (and still is) one of the nicest places to stay there, a Deluxe Property on the Walt Disney World resort. When it was all booked and he couldn’t be accommodated, Michael decided to stay at the Hotel Royal Plaza. The hotel was in the vicinity best known as Downtown Disney but, now called Disney Springs. The hotel staff was welcoming (who wouldn’t be welcoming to Michael Jackson?) but so much so that Michael returned on several occasions. In fact, he stayed there so often, that in recognition of his loyalty to the property and to Disney, the hotel manager negotiated a suite in his name.

2. Michael Jackson wasn’t the only celebrity to have a private suite at the Hotel Royal Plaza, Bob Hope had one there too. 

Bob Hope was a comedian, actor, and television personality, well known for his decades of success within entertainment media. He was also very well respected and applauded for his tours overseas to perform for the American troops. In relation to Michael Jackson history, the Jackson 5 performed on the Bob Hope special in 1973.

Bob Hope was a comedian, actor, and television personality, well known for his decades of success within entertainment media. He was also very well respected and applauded for his tours overseas to perform for the American troops. In relation to Michael Jackson history, the Jackson 5 performed on the Bob Hope special in 1973.

It’s actually an amazing performance (here) and you can see Hope’s (and some of Michael’s) sense of humor for yourself in a later clip (here).

Like Michael, Bob Hope also had a great love for Disney.

Hope’s suite, was a true penthouse pad, located on the top floor of the hotel. (Michael’s suite was located the 16th floor, one level below.) Equipped with a lavender tub, a sparkling chandelier, and five balconies overlooking the Florida interstate, his suite was luxurious, to say the least.

I came across a funny story in the Orlando Sentinel about a mix up between the two celebrity suites. One time, two young girls rang the doorbell to Bob Hope’s room. They were looking for Michael.

“When the bathrobe-clad Hope answered, one of them said in surprise, `You`re not Michael Jackson!’

 ``No,`` said Hope; ``I`m not even the right color; I`m Bob Hope.`` 

``Who is that?`` they asked. 

Hope retreated.” 

3.  If Michael wasn’t occupying it, his Walt Disney World suite could be rented by the public. 

Michael had a hands-on role in designing the suite and how it would display tokens of his career and achievements. Of course, he wouldn’t be the only one occupying the room. “Jackson worked with a designer to decorate the two-bedroom, 16th floor suite at the Royal Plaza and donated memorabilia for the walls. And when he wasn't staying there, fans could rent the digs for upwards of $750 a night” (Morris, 1993).

Phil Wright, the hotel’s manager at the time, shared that guests were guaranteed the suite, unless Michael came to town. Although Michael generally gave one month’s notice before he would come to visit, there were also times when he would arrive unexpectedly. ''It's his suite. Most guests say they don't mind getting bumped -- as long as they're put up on the same floor with him” (Hayes, 1986).

4.  The suite was decorated with Michael's awards, trophies, plaques, and more. 

The suite contained decorations of many of Michael’s awards and was adorned in some of his favorite colors, black, white and red. Among the many awards displayed, was his Presidential award from Ronald Reagan and a replica plaque of Michael’s 37 gold and platinum records. After the suite was created, Michael began sending several of his Grammy awards there to be displayed.

The August 1984 issue of EBONY Jr. magazine boasted that after the Grammy awards that year, the hotel had to break through to the adjoining suite, just to create room to accommodate all of Michael’s trophies.

Michael said of its décor, “What better place to display my personal memorabilia- which is so special to me- than Disney World?”.

It’s rumored that the trophy case was insured for $1 million.

5. Michael also displayed his affection for Marilyn Monroe in the suite. 

The Michael Jackson suite was also decorated with Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. Michael Jackson was a fan of Monroe and on one of the walls, hung a lucite box with a paper sculpture of her inside. Supposedly, Michael once stayed an extra week at the hotel just to watch a Marilyn Monroe film marathon on a local television station. Who Knew!?


The Michael Jackson Suite at Walt Disney World sounds like it was amazing.

I would have loved to see and experience this suite, especially because Disney and Michael are two of the things that make me happy.

I’d imagine it’d be almost as magical as it was seeing Captain EO in EPCOT a couple years ago.

Michael has always been vocal about his love for Disney and I love reading about some of his most memorable moments there, both personally and professionally. In his autobiography, Moonwalker, Michael talks about getting to visit Walt Disney World during days off of the Victory Tour. He shared a story of one moment in time, as he stood on a hotel balcony. A mass of people recognized him and chanted his name down below. It was then, that Michael recalled a moment of recognition within himself.

“Thousands of people began chanting “Michael! Michael!” and it was echoing all over the park… All the work I’d put in on Thriller, my crying and believing in my dreams and working on those songs and falling asleep near the microphone stand because I was so tired, all of it was repaid by this display of affection” (Jackson, 249).

It makes me happy to know that even for a couple of years, Michael had a place he could call his own, relax, and do some escaping of his own in Walt Disney World.

Until next time...

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Friday, January 20, 2017

5 Reasons Why Who’s Bad is the Best Michael Jackson Tribute Band Around

Who's Bad is my favorite Michael Jackson tribute band.

Friends have been inviting me to Brooklyn Bowl for ages to go see different DJ sets, out to eat, and of course, to bowl. But, to be honest... I’ve never been there for any of those reasons.

There’s only a few times a year I am willing to make the trek to Brooklyn Bowl and that’s when Who’s Bad comes to town.

Founded and based out of North Carolina, Who's Bad is a Michael Jackson tribute act that travels all over the United States and overseas to perform Michael's music. They are the longest running Michael Jackson tribute band and the ONLY ONE to predate Michael's passing in 2009. From the choreography, to the ad libs, to the set-list- all the details of the show have been carefully crafted for the Michael Jackson fan in mind. 

The first time I saw Who's Bad was in 2011. I had recently founded Legacy of Love, a Meetup for Michael Jackson fans in New York City a year prior and made a bunch of girlfriends that I felt very close to. At the time, Michael’s death was still something that weighed heavily on all of us. When it was announced that Who's Bad was playing B.B. Kings Blues Club on my birthday- I knew it was the perfect way to celebrate and the ladies were happy to join me. Now I sometimes prefer to attend concerts and Michael events alone but, I really appreciated the company and support back then.

Located in the heart of Times Square, B.B. Kings was a great place to see them for the first time. The venue not only had a great sound system and a large dance/standing room floor but, also boasted two LCD screens on either side of the stage. They played videos of Michael and other unique silhouetted imagery of themselves in the background. It was one of the best fan gatherings I can remember.

You may have read my first blog post about Who’s Bad, where I talked about how much I enjoyed the show.  That was written almost 3 years ago and after seeing them again at Brooklyn Bowl, I knew it was time to write a follow-up.

Since the initial review, a few band members have changed (including one of the lead performers, fan favorite Taalib York. I will get back to that later,..) And although it's 7 years later and the shock of losing Michael has somewhat dissipated, Who’s Bad still played to a totally packed house. 

Let me be completely transparent; I used to be THAT girl. The kind of fangirl who, like many in the fan community, didn't like tribute acts.  I was quite outspoken about not wanting to see anyone else do Michael songs. Who's Bad changed that.

Who's Bad was the first tribute act I saw after Michaels death and though I’ve seen a handful of others since then, NO other experience (besides the Jacksons concerts) comes closer to seeing Michael Jackson live. Yep, I said it… and I have seen Michael Jackson live and the Jacksons live, six other times (including once with Michael in 2001). Keep reading to find out why...

5 Reasons Why Who's Bad is 

THE BEST Michael Jackson Tribute Band around!

1. They're fans.

One of the things I know to be true, is that 99% of Michael Jackson impersonators and tribute acts are FANS. Why would anyone spend countless hours learning choreography, Michael's mannerisms, perfecting the lyrics, and even a developing time consuming stage makeup routine, if they weren't a fan?

Sometimes impersonators and tribute acts can give off vibes that make you question whether or not they’re still fans, whether or not they are simply on stage just going through the motions... things like that. I don’t really know how to explain it but, if the performers aren’t passionate about what they’re doing, tributes can come off as dry and mechanical. What I've found in Who's Bad, is that you can literally feel energy of a stage full of people who love Michael Jackson and his music. What other tribute show do you know of, where the guys in the band play instruments, do a little background singing, and even some dancing? They're having fun the entire show and the crowd really feeds off that.

2. They are respectful of Michael Jackson. 

I have seen a lot of tribute acts over the past few years and some have been surprisingly kitschy. Others have been somewhat offensive. About 4 years ago, I went to see a tribute show and the lead performer made distasteful jokes in between songs. As a fan, I was hurt to see another fan make fun of Michael just to get laughs out of the audience... but, I guess it comes with the territory. It’s frustrating but, from a business standpoint, I understand it. Sometimes shows do need to be tailored to their respective audiences but, it's still not MY cup of tea. Who's Bad reminds the audience at every show, that they are celebrating the life and the music of Michael Jackson. And to me, that's the way it should be.

As Michael once said himself during his acceptance of the Grammy Legend Award in 1993, “It feels good to be thought of as a person, not as a personality.”  I wouldn't be able to enjoy the show without knowing that the performers up there were representing and celebrating my hero with dignity and class.

3. They are super talented individuals.

Of course, the Who’s Bad features all the classic hits that folks want to hear but, they also play a couple of surprises, including “Love Never Felt So Good,” which was cool hearing accompanied by live instrumentation. The Michaels, James Time III & Joseph Bell both have outstanding voices and do a great job at performing the songs live. Michael was so much more than a dancer and an entertainer… his voice was also a key element of that overall "King of Pop" stage performance. Who’s Bad consistently features performers with vocal talent who are naturals on the stage.

4. The BAND is amazing.

The BAND! I cannot say enough great things about them. The musical direction is on point and I have to give great props to those guys. No other tribute show has got the live Michael/Jacksons sound down like they do. The live music is played with soul and exuberance. One of the main reasons why I feel so pumped after Who's Bad shows, is because of how authentically well they play Michael's music and interacting with the crowd.

5. They do lots of meets and greets and come down to take photos after the show!

One of the reasons I love this act is that I've gotten a chance to speak to several of the members. They are super down to Earth and gladly take photos with fans, when time and venue permits. (I actually haven't met Joseph, AKA "Jobell" yet but, I look forward to meeting him in the near future.)

After the show, I was anxious to meet the Michaels. I had the chance to meet the band’s newest front man, James. He exceeded my expectations both on stage and off. I was impressed with his sharp dance moves and a graceful stage presence reminiscent of Michael’s. But also, how kind he was to take multiple photos and chat with each person who wanted to.

Oh- and BONUS points because he gave me a shout out during the show to compliment me on my CTE shirt!
Me in my CTE Shirt...

...and Michael in his! * via Dangerous Tour- MITM performance*


Seeing Who’s Bad this was time around was a fun experience and I am glad I went on that Friday night. Oh and last but not least... I want to address something that has been a topic of conversation among the fan community lately... What Happened to Taalib York?  Well, after attending the show, I am glad to say I finally found out the answer. That night they announced a special guest in the audience and it was Taalib!

James, Taalib, and Jobell on January 6th at Brooklyn Bowl.

They mentioned that Taalib left the group to explore other opportunities. Very happy for him! The cool part I have to mention, was that he joined current lead men on stage during a memorable performance of “Man in the Mirror”. So awesome to see, ending the evening on a high note!

If you’re interested in seeing when Who's Bad will be in your city, visit their official website or follow them on facebookinstagram and twitter @WhosBADMusic. Tickets are VERY reasonably priced (I don't think I've paid more than $30 USD to see them General Admission in New York but, I would because they are worth sooo much more). They travel all over the world and are probably going to be playing at a town near you sometime soon.

Don’t forget to tag me too and let me know how you enjoyed the show :-)

be sure to follow MJFANGiRL on social.

Until Next Time, xoxo