On March 5, the troubled singer made a five-minute appearance in the drafty, mall-like atrium of London's giant O2 Arena to announce an upcoming series of concerts.
The results were astonishing: For each second he was on the small stage, Jackson sold 25,000 concert tickets, eventually expanding his roster of London shows from 10 to 50 dates. Beginning on July 8, and running through February 2010, more than an astonishing 750,000 seats were sold to fans hoping to see Jackson in action for what he calls his career "curtain call" in London.
But can the 50-year-old King of Pop – whose last U.K. live performance, at the World Music Awards in 2006, was roundly deemed a flop – pull it off?
Physical Exhaustion?It won't be easy, says Ben Cardew, editor of Britain's Music Week magazine. "He has been away for a while and had some much-publicized problems" – Jackson's trial, and subsequent acquittal on child abuse charges in 2005, for instance, and his recent financial collapse – "and this is an incredible schedule, 50 dates over six months," says Cardew. "So, yes, people are wondering if he's going to do it."
Adds BBC Radio 2 deejay Paul Gambaccini, "The risk of physical exhaustion is the main obstacle at this point." One U.K. bookie has placed the odds that Jackson will perform only one show at 12 to 1.
But concert promoters are promising a new Michael with new dance steps. "He's working on a new move. Something like the moonwalk but different," AEG Live's chief executive Randy Phillips told the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph.
Music industry sources also expect pyrotechnics and other frills – lots of them. "It takes pressure off the [the performer] when he can get five minutes when there are fireworks or someone else comes on," says Music Week's Cardew. "And that is the way things are going, just look at Britney Spears."
Thriller RemakeJackson has other plans afoot. He hopes to team with a director and writer to do a 3D remake of his groundbreaking video Thriller, AEG Live's Phillips has said, possibly to be released around Halloween.
His team of helpers is currently scouting houses in the English countryside for Jackson and his children – Prince Michael I, 12, Paris, 10, and Prince Michael II, 6 – and he may even shuttle to the concert arena, located on the banks of the River Thames, by boat.
Why London? The Gloved One says he loves the city. He hopes fans from all over Europe – where "his reputation was not as marred in this part of the world," says the BBC's Gambaccini – will make the short hop to the British capital. Ticket requests were received from as far away as North Korea and Afghanistan, according to the promoters.
Mandatory Medical ExamWhy now? Because the formerly flush singer, who was forced to put his beloved Neverland estate on the market to pay bills, is seriously in need of cash. The London shows are expected to net him upwards of $50 million, AEG Live's Phillips says. If Jackson takes his show on tour around the world, Phillips estimates, the total could be five times that amount.
AEG Live isn't taking any chances. The company has said it demanded rigorous health checks before signing the star to sing again.
And if Jackson succeeds in London, could Vegas be next?