Michael JacksonR.E.M.

Jacko's Teen Pop Stars May Start Singing

Just because we're having a presidential election today doesn't mean that we've forgotten about Michael Jackson.

As usual, there's a lot going on at Planet Michael. I am told that as Jackson's January trial draws closer, we are going to be hearing from famous child pop stars who've performed with him or visited Neverland for overnight stays.

At the top of that list is Aaron Carter, the 16-year-old brother of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter.

Aaron, who has already graduated from high school, thanks to home tutoring, is now estranged from his mother and living with his father in Marathon, Fla.

Interestingly, Aaron's father has brought Aaron back to the Orlando area to be managed by his original agent, Lou Pearlman, at TransContinental Companies.

This is kind of a surprise, since the Backstreet Boys, *NSync and many others Pearlman trained in their wake were eager to leave the boy-band guru for greener pastures.

In another surprise, the Backstreet Boys, I am told, have returned to their manager, Johnny Wright, who still manages *NSync and Justin Timberlake. Five years ago, the Boys left Wright acrimoniously because they thought *NSync was getting preferential treatment.

But back to Aaron, who along with choreographer Wade Robson has had a lot of contact with Michael Jackson in recent years.

Authorities may quiz Aaron and other young performers about their relationships with the former King of Pop. It's said that Aaron may soon be willing to fully describe his friendship with Jackson, for better or worse. This would include offering a reason why Jackson gave him a $300,000 turquoise Bentley as a gift.

Others who may be called to detail their relationships with Jackson include Macaulay Culkin and his siblings, "Webster" star Emmanuel Lewis, Robson and a young actor named Bryton McClure who's currently working on the CBS soap "The Young and the Restless."

The list already includes a host of other former teen stars, such as Jimmy Safechuck and, of course, Omer Bhatti, the young Norwegian man whom Jackson inaccurately identified to friends as his son.

In the meantime, there's good news from the Jackson camp. His friends say his detox program has been a success and that he's more coherent than he has been in recent months and no longer dependent on prescription drugs.

Of course, the bad side of that story is that the man Michael hired to clean him up is suing him for non-payment.

Alfredo Bowman, who calls himself "Dr. Sebi" but is not a doctor of any kind, treated Jackson with herbs between January and March of this year.

In his lawsuit, filed Oct. 13, Bowman claims that Jackson paid him only $10,000 and not the $380,000 for which he billed him. Bowman wants the latter amount, plus another $600,000 for lost income, bringing the total to just under $1 million.

In the legal complaint, Bowman says that Jackson hired him on Jan. 13. He goes on to say that at Jackson's request, the doctor deferred all his current clients and declined various speaking engagements for a six-month period so that he could provide and prepare special herbal compounds and train cooks to prepare meals exclusively for Michael Jackson.

"In doing so," the complaint says, "Dr. Sebi lost monthly revenues in the amount of $100,000 per month, for a six month period. Dr. Sebi's financial consultant invoiced Michael Jackson at a reduced rate of $58,000 based upon an agreement that all invoices would be payable upon receipt."

Michael's brother, Randy, is again the man who did not sign off on Bowman's payment, adding the doctor to a long list of people — including Jackson's long-suffering attorneys Zia Modabber and Steve Cochran — who are owed lots of money.

But Randy may be wondering how Bowman, who advertises the fact that he never went to any school, could possibly charge so much for his services.

I told you last March that Bowman ran afoul of the New York State attorney general a couple of years ago. That office objected to Bowman's advertisements boasting of cures for AIDS, cancer, leukemia and other ailments and ordered him to pull them.

His packages of minerals range from $175 to $1,500 a month. They include bottles of $25 "electric cell food" pills and $75 "Bio Electric I and II" capsules to purify the system.

Bowman also treated late TLC singer Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes at his clinic in Honduras right before her tragic car accident.

This was after Lopes' uncle — who was morbidly obese — followed Bowman's regimen of herbs, lost 100 pounds, gained them back and subsequently died of congestive heart failure.

Maybe he saw the bill.

Are Bronfman, Lee Losing R.E.M. Sleep?

It was almost a year ago that Thomas H. Lee Equity Partners of Boston closed the deal to buy Warner Music Group from Time Warner.

Insiders questioned the sanity of the purchase. Warner Music was hit-deprived. What were these people thinking?

A year later, WMG is in possession of its biggest sales disaster in some time.

R.E.M.'s "Around the Sun" album has sold only 113,000 copies since its release a couple of weeks ago. The album is part of a huge 1995 deal in which R.E.M. received $80 million to stay with Warner instead of decamping for then-new Dreamworks Records.

"Around the Sun" got lukewarm reviews, but R.E.M. is on tour and has had an enormous amount of publicity, thanks to the Vote for Change tour. Not only that, the single "Leaving New York" is excellent.

But one of WMG's Atlantic Records' biggest stars, Brandy, said yesterday that she was leaving the label. Her last album sold a disappointing 361,000 copies.

So what's the disconnection between PR and sales? And what are the folks at Thomas H. Lee thinking after 52 weeks and few hits to show for their big investment?

Of course, the rumor is that Lee and co-owner Edgar Bronfman will soon offer an IPO on the company or announce a merger with Capitol/EMI. Or both. But Lee must be asking Bronfman if record companies aren't supposed to see their names on the charts.

So far, the new WMG has had a hit with one of the company's older bands, Green Day, and not much else. The addition of Island Def Jam's Lyor Cohen was supposed to add a new generation of talent to the label, but nothing's happened as yet.

My, how times have changed. Ten years ago, Warner's was a presence on the charts with hits by Madonna, Brandy, Candlebox, The Pretenders and, of course, R.E.M.

The Southern band's single at the time was "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" — a question I'm sure they're asking these days, substituting "Edgar" for the name in the title.