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Alicia Keys Goes for Superstardom

Alicia Keys | Michael Jackson | 'The Aviator'

Alicia Keys Goes for Superstardom

There's no two ways about it: By the time she finished her extraordinary charity show on Wednesday night, Alicia Keys had taken her career to a new level.

She's only 23, so maybe we're not properly appreciating the talent of this beautiful young woman who seems able to play anything and sing anything in her own style.

She imitates no one, but evokes about 40 years of pop and R&B with unerring taste. She also speaks and dresses nicely — and has a nice mother too.

A recent visit to Africa exposed Keys to a charity called Keep a Child Alive — which has the dubious tag line of "Be a Drug Pusher," meaning providing AIDS drugs to ill Africans.

Wednesday's show, dramatically staged at a former German-Jewish synagogue on the Lower East Side, was designed around Keys to raise money and awareness for the cause. It was World AIDS Day, in case you didn't know.

Keys invited a slew of stars to help her for the occasion. Some showed, some didn't.

The ones who did — Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Lenny Kravitz, Anthony Hamilton and Angelique Kidjo — got to be part of a magical night that somehow will make it to an official recording.

The ones who didn't, like Paul Simon, I'm sure had good reasons, but they will live with regret.

Spike Lee and his wife Tonya were in the audience, but he cannot sing, unfortunately.

It was the same day that Keys, who's awaiting a slew of Grammy nominations next week, received 13 nominations from the Billboard Awards for her "Diary of Alicia Keys" album.

"What's with that?" she asked rhetorically after the show. "There aren't even 13 songs on the album!"

With unusual aplomb and confidence for a person of this age (not to mention talent), Keys demonstrated what a real musical icon used to be about.

There is no midriff-baring, lip-synching, scantily clad dancers or dry-ice cloud billowing around her. Just a rocking nine-piece band, three cool backup singers and a lot of soul.

Keys' show was just over an hour, but it was quality over quantity. She performed her hit, "If I Ain't Got You," and a robust version of Marvin Gaye's "Save the Children."

The latter, from Gaye's "What's Going On" album, is not easily done and rarely heard live. But Keys — who you could almost call a young, female Isaac Hayes — pulled it off, knowing she was making history.

As the show progressed, Keys — wearing a red leather jacket, a tight black skirt and killer pumps — alternated her turns at the piano to simply singing. She has become a virtuoso at both.

She brought in Babyface for a duet on John Lennon's "Imagine" that was so achingly beautiful it should be released as a single immediately. With Kravitz, she executed Curtis Mayfield's "Little Child Runnin' Wild" perfectly and with Hamilton she also paid tribute to Mayfield with "People Get Ready."

It's kind of breathtaking to imagine what Alicia Keys will be like 10 years from now. The musicianship, the poise, the range — all are just beginning to flourish.

Let's just hope that it doesn't go to her head, or that she doesn't find her own Bobby Brown.

In the meantime: Bravo!

Jacko's German Company Goes Belly Up?

Word out of Germany late yesterday is that Michael Jackson's company, MJ Net Entertainment AG, is no more.

Details were sketchy, but it would seem that at least one executive of the company was served with an arrest warrant.

No information seems to be available about Dieter Wiesner, who was once Jackson's manager and business partner. He was left with the responsibility of running MJ Net after being ousted from the American side of the business by the Nation of Islam a year ago.

The German business disaster wasn't Jackson's only problem this week.

His lawyers lost what looked like important motions in a Santa Maria, Calif., court concerning his upcoming child-molestation trial. The defense was told that they couldn't order psychiatric or medical examinations for the family of Jackson's accuser.

On the other hand, a report came out from a psychiatrist who examined the family three years ago during a lawsuit against JCPenney. The results of that report, which have been widely published, cast a dark cloud over the family and its motivations.

The prosecution responded by spinning the local press. Suddenly word came out that Jackson's team would do anything to destroy the mother of the accusing child in the case.

I can tell you now that there will be a lot of back-and-forth in the press, a lot of spin control and that none of it will matter.

My sources have said from the beginning, and the psychiatrist's report bears them out, that the mother coached her children in all testimony, and had selective memory.

According to the Santa Maria News-Press:

"Dr. Hochman noted that the mother did not want to answer questions and frequently claimed memory loss about her life before the incident. 'She said she didn't want to remember anything about her prior psychiatric treatment ... She didn't remember where [her son] took dancing lessons.' She frequently buried her head in her hands. 'She was far more upset talking about the mall episode than about her son's bout with cancer. Her general demeanor alternated between a blunted state and tearful hysteria.'"

More importantly — and this column reported these elements of the Jackson case some months ago — the alleged conspiracy to kidnap or restrain the family by Jackson and his employees is looking less and less solid.

As I reported, during the time frame of the charges in the case, the family was never out of physical or phone reach of the mother's boyfriend, who is now her husband.

That man, U.S. Army Major Jay Jackson (no relation to Michael), could easily have intervened at any point in February or March of 2003 if he thought the mother and her three kids were being "held." He did not.

Finally: An unidentified source told the Santa Maria News Press that the mother and her two sons are getting on with their lives.

"The boys are playing football," the source said.

There is no mention of the mother's eldest child, an 18-year-old girl.

I'm told that this girl ceased living with her mother some time ago and went to live with her grandparents. The reason for this will undoubtedly be revealed during the trial.

Howard Hughes Less and Less Reclusive

Howard Hughes was such a recluse in old age, what would he think of so many people seeing his life story and commenting on it?

Last night's screening of "The Aviator," a likely Oscar nominee, brought out a bevy of heavy hitters at the Soho House screening room.

Among the guests enjoying Martin Scorsese's tour de force: painter-director Julian Schnabel with his two young sons and wife Olatz; Liz Smith; Cynthia McFadden of ABC News; Michael Gelman and Claudia Cohen of "Live With Regis and Kelly"; financier Brad Jacke of Lehman Brothers and movie producer Jon Kilik, who was gracious in receiving unsolicited reviews of "Alexander."

In the meantime, Bob Balaban and Lynne Grossman had recovered enough from the IFP East's Gotham Awards show to host a screening of "Sideways" down at the Screening Room in Tribeca.

This was the same place where Fox Searchlight had a cocktail party the other night for the same film. Cast members Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen may be thinking this is the only watering hole in town.

Finally: A tip of the hat to Lisa Steinmetz, our pal who had made financial and emotional investments in the area of West Greenwich Village called the Meat Packing District. On Tuesday, American Express sponsored a big fashion show at the hip, hip, hip Maritime Hotel for its new NYC card.

The Meat Packing District Initiative was the beneficiary, with Christy Turlington, Betsey Johnson and other fashionistas pitching in. A whole neighborhood has been born "overnight" after 25 years of waiting. Who'd have thunk it?