With the Jackson family looking on from the audience, Janet Jackson kicked off the 2009 Video Music Awards with a tribute to her brother, Michael. Before Janet took the stage however, Madonna emerged on the darkened stage to reminisce about her experience knowing Michael, drawing comparisons between their difficult childhoods and the King of Pop's everlasting impact on music.
"There is no question Michael Jackson was one of the greatest talents the world has ever known," Madonna said to a standing ovation. "We allowed this magnificent creature that once set the world on fire to slip through the cracks... He was so unique, so original, so rare and there will never be anyone like him again. He was a king."
After Madonna concluded her tribute, the MJ performance began with a pack of dancers streaming onto the stage to reenact the famed "Thriller" dance while the song's classic video projected on the giant screen. According to reports, dancers, choreographers and Janet herself were involved in hours of intense rehearsals in preparation for the tribute to an artist who helped put MTV on the map. "Bad" and "Smooth Criminal" next featured in the dancers' compilation of Michael's most memorable moves, with the performers all donning some of Jackson's trademark outfits.
Then, as the opening notes of Jackson's collaboration with his sister "Scream" played over the speakers, Janet Jackson smashed through the set to recreate her duet with her brother. The performance was meticulously coordinated, with the siblings dancing in unison; Janet on the stage, Michael on the screen. Cris Judd, a.k.a. Jennifer Lopez's ex-husband, and Tina Landon, Janet's longtime choreographer, were among the dancers who joined Janet for the performance that was a moving moment and a fitting way to start the evening.