The pre-concert news seemed to indicate certain disaster. Ticket sales were suspended at one point (and subsequent tickets sales were said to be poor), there was trouble with the line-up, and division between the Jackson family over the timing of the event all contributed to reports branding it a non-starter.
But apparently no one had bothered to tell the fans. On Saturday afternoon, there was a carnival atmosphere in the streets of Cardiff, Wales surrounding Millennium Stadium, where over 40,000 fedora-wearing fans blew whistles and danced to Michael’s greatest hits, which blared from local pubs.
The party infiltrated the stadium, where Ne-Yo kicked off the show, announced by a pyrotechnics display that blazed across the white glove-shaped stage – reportedly the biggest rig used for a show in Europe.
British boy band JLS received the loudest screams of the night for "Blame It On The Boogie," performed with Jacksons Marlon, Tito and Jackie. Other highlights were from Cee Lo Green ("I Can’t Help It"), Alien Ant Farm ("Smooth Criminal") and a duet from long-time Jackson family friends Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson ("I Just Can’t Stop Loving You").
Many younger acts – Ne-Yo, JLS, Jamie Foxx, Craig David – said that Michael had been an inspiration for them. So all those hours spent imitating his moves and grooves (undoubtedly singing into hairbrushes in front of mirrors) turned out to be hours well spent, as they gyrated their way through classics like "Billie Jean," "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Rock With You."
There were also notable performances from Christina Aguilera (sporting enormous hair) and Beyoncé, who appeared via video-link introduced by Michael’s children. British dance troupe Diversity gave a killer performance with plenty of references to Michael’s moves between their signature acrobatics, and Yolanda Adams' huge voice earned her deafening applause.
Still, the show wasn’t quite the triumph it could have been. There were awkward gaps between some performances, and a particularly awkward moment from La Toya Jackson, who seemed disoriented after her performance and had to be repeatedly guided to the correct position on stage. But these are small quibbles for a show of this magnitude – while the music was playing and the people were dancing, no one seemed to mind.
Throughout, it was clear that Michael’s lasting legacy as the king of pop endures. "Can you feel his spirit in the house tonight?" asked his brother Marlon. And as the fans sang every word and did their best Moonwalks out into the night, the answer seemed pretty clear.
Ne-Yo – "Billie Jean"
Ne-Yo – "The Lady In My Life"
JLS – "The Way You Make Me Feel"
JLS and the Jacksons – "Blame It on the Boogie"
The Jacksons – "Shake Your Body"
Jamie Foxx – "Rock With You"
Alien Ant Farm – "PYT"
Alien Ant Farm – "Smooth Criminal"
Leona Lewis – "I’ll Be There"
Leona Lewis – "Stranger In Moscow"
Craig David – "Human Nature"
Dance Jam live dance performance
Smokey Robinson – "She’s Out Of My Life"
Gladys Knight – "Believe In Yourself"
Beyoncé – "I Wanna Be Where You Are"
Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson – "I Just Can't Stop Loving You"
3T (and Tito Jackson) – "Why / Heartbreak Hotel"
Diversity live dance performance
La Toya Jackson – "Jam / In The Closet"
Cee Lo Green – "You Can’t Win"
Cee Lo Green - "I Can’t Help It"
Christina Aguilera – "Smile"
Christina Aguilera – "Dirty Diana"
Pixie Lott – "You Are Not Alone"
Pixie Lott – "I Want You Back"
Yolanda Adams – "Another Part of Me"
Yolanda Adams – "Earth Song"
Alexandra Burke – "Scream"
Alexandra Burke – "Who’s Lovin’ You"
Alexandra Burke, Yolanda Adams, Gladys Knight – "Gone Too Soon"
Jamie Foxx, JLS, The Jacksons – "Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough"