New York City radio station WKTU's Christmas concert Miracle on 34th Street, held Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, was rife with surprises. For one, Whitney Houston made an expected stop when she popped in midway to deliver an award to Marc Anthony, this year's recipient of the American Cinema Awards Foundation's Gloria Swanson Humanitarian Award for raising money for children with AIDS, Alzheimer victims and the healing arts. And, as one of Anthony's favorite singers, she startled and delighted the wide-eyed Latin superstar when -- in an impromptu gesture at her suggestion -- she joined him on "The Greatest Love of All."
Following this magical moment, a thrilled Anthony faced the audience. "What do you do after that?" he asked. "I just want to say that in recognition of receiving this amazing, amazing honor, all I have to say is that anything and everything I've ever done has been from the bottom of my heart, and I will continue to do what it is that I do. And I want to thank each and every one of you for supporting me. God bless you all!" Anthony and the orchestra then kicked into "You Sang To Me."
But Houston's appearance wasn't the only surprise of the evening. Though it had been rumored that he might appear and an unseen announcer had teased that a ghost was in the house, or that a miracle would occur, when a very wan Michael Jackson, decked out in a black motorcycle jacket, walked out, he was met with an eruption of screams, yells and applause.
Jackson's fellow singers and the audience waited with bated breath for him to sing. He raised the mike to his mouth and said in a surprisingly strong voice, "I think I have laryngitis. I can't perform tonight, but I wanted to say, Merry Christmas, I love you all, you've all been phenomenal. And the best is yet to come."
Jackson may not have sung, but there was plenty of music to be had this evening. Before singer and emcee Toni Braxton introduced Ricky Martin, she sang a husky and glorious a capella version of "Unbreak My Heart." Braxton added to the evening's surprise parade with her revolving wardrobe. As has become the custom with such events, every time she came onstage, she wore a different revealing outfit.
No big surprise was Ricky Martin's set. Martin took the stage and ran through his high-energy touchstones: "She Bangs," "Loaded," "Livin' La Vida Loca," and, of course, "The Cup of Life." All the while, cameraman kept shooting extreme close ups of Ricky's leather clad crotch for the two giant video screens that hung over the stage. Onstage Martin was slick and waved his bon bon to the multitudes with guileless ease.
Other highlights included Destiny's Child singing a short gospel a capella medley. During that number their voices rose so high and pure they gave chills and goose bumps to the audience. Edwin Starr prowled the stage and gave the proceedings a much-needed boost following Lara Fabian's saccharine set, raising the temperature of the venue with his fiery takes on "War" and "Contact." Deneice Williams and Gloria Gaynor sang their bread and butter songs, "Let's Hear it for the Boy" and "I Will Survive," respectively.
Another delightful surprise was the duet featuring Brian McKnight and Christina Aguilera, who harmonized on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Spice Girl Mel C, Son by Four, Debelah Morgan, 98 Degrees, Jon Secada, Tamia and Lara Fabian were also among the performers who made their way across the stage.