SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Just hours before selection of a jury to decide his molestation case, Michael Jackson (search) was relaxed enough to ask about buying some sketches of himself from a courtroom artist.
With opening arguments set to begin Monday in a trial that could put Jackson in prison and destroy a career he has worked his entire life to build, the pop superstar's courtroom demeanor betrays no signs of panic.
He has his nervous tics — he meticulously folded tissue paper as his attorneys questioned prospective jurors, and at one point he picked roughly at a thumbnail under the defense table.
But even in his most animated whispered discussions with his attorneys, Jackson appeared calm. His occasional finger-pointing and hand gestures were emphatic but graceful, like his famously fluid dance moves.
"The more relaxed he looks, the less scared he looks. If he looks scared, it looks like he has something to be scared about," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School (search) professor. "He's a great communicator, that's part of what makes him a superstar. But if the jurors see it as insincere, he'll be in trouble."
In jurors' presence, Jackson was quick to nod and laugh, but quiet and polite. There were no signs of the larger-than-life man who, after one of his first court appearances, climbed on top of an SUV (search) and danced to the cheers of hundreds of fans gathered outside the courthouse.
Just as the throngs have dissipated to a core of about 20 die-hards who now attend his court dates, Jackson's outsized personality has shrunk to human scale.
He is friendly with everyone, talking to court staff and occasionally the news media.
Even as his attorney, Thomas Mesereau, asked jurors repeatedly about the harm caused by "sensationalistic" news coverage that has put Jackson's life "under a microscope," Jackson took a moment Tuesday to politely answer a reporter's question about an emblem on his jacket.
His answer suggested that he doesn't put as much thought into his elaborate courtroom attire as his fans and reporters do.
"My wardrobe guy puts it together," he said.
In an encounter Wednesday morning with Bill Robles, a courtroom artist whose work appears in newspapers and on television, Jackson asked for a business card. Robles, like many artists, features one of his illustrations on his card — and in this case it was a drawing of Jackson.
The singer, apparently pleased, had attorney Brian Oxman approach Robles to negotiate for some of his artwork. Oxman proposed trading art for some Jackson autographs.
Robles said Friday he hasn't had any discussions about it since, but that the singer has turned and smiled at him — "giving me good viewpoints."
For the most part, Jackson has been focused intensely on his trial. When prospective jurors arrived, he stood and smiled. When questioning began, he nodded and smiled along with jurors' answers. When one woman complained that a friend once played his music so much that she got sick of it, he doubled over laughing.
Jackson also smiled when a juror said his sisters, Janet and LaToya, are very pretty.
The singer was most avidly involved when prosecutors rejected two black women being considered for the panel.
They were the only two blacks to be considered as jurors, though the 19-year-old black man who complimented Jackson's sisters was eventually named as an alternate.
Jackson appeared upset when each woman was removed. As his attorney approached the bench to object to one of the women's dismissals, Jackson stood in a corner with Oxman, whispered in his ear, and gesticulated with his long, thin fingers, occasionally pointing at Oxman.
Public opinion polls have shown blacks are less inclined to believe the charges against Jackson.
On Friday, Jackson appeared for a hearing he was not required to attend. He smiled warmly at a reporter who greeted him, and touched her softly on the shoulder. As he waited for the judge to take the bench, he went to a corner of the courtroom and did several stretches.
He sat through several motions, but with the judge's permission left court early during a late-morning break. He walked outside and waved to fans as he got in his waiting SUV to be driven away.